September 4, 2013

Meat Sales and Butt Smears

WTH? Athens

From the window of an Orbit bus, the University of Georgia campus looks like any other institution of higher learning. Imposing buildings—check. Leafy commons—check. Texting students—check. But I've always suspected that there's a different, more mysterious landscape just below the surface. 

There's the sign hanging from the the Meat Sciences Laboratory building, for example, over on South Campus. The one that says "Meat Sale Today." The idea of a meat lab having a meat sale has always bothered me. It seems unwise; sort of like a porta-potty company that also sells bottled water. I imagine the lab's promotional materials, how brutally honest they'd have to be. "Our botched experiment is your bargain!" or "We're done with this now. Do you want it?"

Aren't most of us in a constant dither about E. coli and pink slime and other unhappy food contamination incidents? Why would anyone buy meat from a place that proudly admits to tampering with it before they sell it? On the other hand, maybe all those growth hormones and antibiotics and radioactive isotopes have an upside. Maybe meat-lab meat is the one weird trick I need to banish my wrinkles and finally win the Tour de France.

Excited, I call them for more information.

"Hello," I say to the nice receptionist. "I'm calling about the meat sale. Is that still happening?

"Oh yes. It's every Friday from 10:30-4:30."

"Great! Do you know what kind of meat you sell there? Is it a specific kind of meat, or just meat in general?"

"Well, we have all kinds of meat. Bacon, chops, oxtail, sausages, hamburger patties, steaks, sometimes lamb."

"What about chicken? Do you have chicken? Is chicken not meat?"

"No, it's definitely meat. We just are more about large animals here."

"Oh. And so, is the meat more or less expensive because of the experiments?

"No, it's not more expensive. It's very reasonably priced. It's comparable to Kroger."

"OK," I persist. "So no change due the experiments?"

"No!" says the secretary emphatically. "No no, they don't do experiments on the meat they sell! Let me let you talk to Ryan Crowe. He's the meat manager."

"Hello," I say once Mr. Crowe gets on the line, "Your receptionist tells me you don't experiment on any of the meat you sell to the public."

"Well, sometimes we do," he replies.

"Ah ha!" I yell. 

He seems unfazed. "Yeah, for instance, local stuff is really big just now. So we found a local distillery, one that brews alcohol, and fed the waste from the brewing process to the cows."

"So you could see what cows do when they're drunk."

"What? No. No drunk cows. The alcohol burns off when it's cooking. The waste material is just grain. Instead of throwing it away we fed it to the cows. It did just as well as corn."

"Oh," I say, disappointed.

He sounds sympathetic. "Yeah, all of the meat we sell is USDA approved, high-quality meat, just like in the store. Nobody's going to glow from this meat."

I hang up the phone and drive myself and my toddler down to the next landmark on my mental map of Weird UGA: Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall. 

What must it be like to work in such an unfortunately named building? And what could possibly go on in a place that is staffed, considering the level of humor in its name, with 13-year-old boys?

I push my toddler’s stroller into the lobby and speak with Tony Devane, the lady behind the front desk. I tell her I want to know what the building is all about and then, shy all of a sudden, I admit that I'm curious about the name.

"Oh, the name," nods Ms. Devane. "It was named for two coaches with great records at UGA, Wallace Butts and Henry Mehre."

"Yes, but… “ I lean closer, "The name is kind of, ah, funny."

"How so?" asks Ms. Devane.

"Well, you know. Butts-Mehre. Say it out loud. 'Butt. Smear.'"

"Butt Smear?" repeats Ms. Devane.

"Yes! Butt Smear! Butt Smear Butt Smear Butt Smear!" I realize that I am standing with my toddler in the lobby of a fancy building yelling "butt smear" over and over at someone I've only just met and feel ashamed. "Um, is there anyone else I could talk to about this?"

Ms. Devane refers me to Ms. Karen Huff, the office manager of the sports communications division. She tells me about all of the exciting things to see in the building's museum, which is free and open to the public Monday-Friday from 8 a.m.–5 p.m., and in the mornings during home games. She gives me a brochure that details their impressive collection of UGA football memorabilia, including the Heisman and National Championship trophies. She, like Ms. Devane, is proud of where she works.

"OK," I say, "But what about the name?"

"Butts-Mayor?" she pronounces. "What about it?"

"Butts Mayor?" I'm taken aback. "Butts MAYOR? That's how you pronounce it?"

Yes," says Ms. Huff, "What about it?"

"Ha ha ha," I stammer. "I thought it was pronounced "Butt Smear," and I thought that was kind of, um, unusual."

"Nope," says Ms. Huff, looking at me placidly, "It's Butts-Mayor. Butts-Mayor."

"OK then," I say lamely, scribbling "Not pronounced 'Butt Smear'" in my notebook. "That's great to know!"

So. The meat lab is not selling dangerously adulterated products and the Butts-Mehre building is actually the Butts-MAYOR building, which is really not hilarious or unusual at all. I feel deflated. Suddenly all the whimsy has flown from my alma mater.

Well, I think, there's always the UGA Lameness Lab. I can't wait to call them. I picture a waiting room full of unfortunate people wearing fanny packs and sweatshirts with kittens airbrushed on them. If anyone can help these folks, the Lameness Lab can!

This time, I don't even get as far as a phone call before my hopes are dashed. People on campus may casually refer to it as "the lameness lab," but its full name is the EQUINE Lameness Lab, according to its website. This lab doesn't study clueless people. They study injured horses. And what's funny about injured horses? Sadly, nothing at all.

I used to consider UGA's campus a place of mystery and intrigue thanks to things like the meat sale, the Butt-Smear building, and the (Equine) Lameness Lab. I'm struggling to cope with the realization that everything on campus makes perfect sense.

Perhaps I'm due for some quiet reflection time in the Quiet Reflection Room. It's on the third floor of the Tate Student Center, and I used to think it was odd that a place like that would have such a room, and funny that there was a sign there explicitly forbidding studying. But now, I'm sure there's a good explanation.