第二天晚上，我去了当地的一家名叫“比尔与荷利”（Bill and Holly’s）的餐吧。这是一家烧烤酒吧，位于林中的乡村小路旁，离最近的镇子有30分钟车程。餐吧的老板比尔和荷利已经在那里住了很久，经历过很多寒冷的冬季。两位都是很有趣味、善于招待客人并且爱出主意的乡下人。
The Real Importance of Tomato Juice
Much has been written about the US and China, their common and differing interests, the impact of their relationship on global issues, the future of mankind, etc.
I’d like to put aside those bigger issues for a moment and focus on one small but often overlooked thing which these two great countries have in common: skunks.
That’s right, skunks.
Let us spare a thought for the lowly and often forgotten skunk. Although different species of skunk occur in both China and the U.S., they are not exactly a poster child of anyone’s conservation efforts — unlike China’s iconic pandas, tigers and golden-haired monkeys, or America’s bald eagles, bison, and wolves.
Like most similarities one can cite about China and the U.S., the common ground relating to skunks is accompanied by significant differences. It may well be that the most instructive points arise from understanding the differences rather than seizing on superficial similarities.
Chinese skunks are weasely looking, low-slung and brown in color. They are reputed in mythology and superstition to have mischievous and occasionally supernatural abilities. They are seen by some as harbingers of bad luck or embodiments of spirits.
American skunks are more waddly than weaseley. Taller, fatter, and less well-camouflaged than Chinese skunks, they sport distinctive black and white striped coloring. Most Americans are more likely to associate them with roadkill and a bad smell than with any supernatural traits.
One thing which both Chinese and American skunks have in common is the ability to issue a powerful stink from the glands underneath their tails.
On this point, although I have not personally experienced the stink of a Chinese skunk, I can attest that an American skunk’s withering stink is the worst smelling thing I have ever come across.
Worse even, by a factor at least a hundred times, than stinky bean curd or durian fruit. Not only in magnitude, but in staying power. Clothing which has been sprayed by an American skunk is unwashable even with the strongest detergent. I know this from direct experience.
I had a summer job when I was a college kid, as a house painter and jack-of-all-trades at a fishing resort owned by my Uncle Tom in the northern midwestern state of Wisconsin. The main lodge was a towering old log cabin, and the guest rooms were small wooden cottages.
Part of my responsibility was to look after Uncle Tom’s Black Labrador puppy, whose name was Cappy. Labradors are great swimmers, and Cappy loved to explore the deep pine forests which surrounded the lodge. He loved people and soaked up their attention like a sponge.
One day after work I took Cappy out in a small aluminum boat. I rowed the two of us along the edge of the shoreline as sunset approached.
I was fishing. Cappy was watching. Suddenly there was a rustling noise in the underbrush on shore, and the next thing I knew, Cappy rocketed out of the boat, swam to shore, and disappeared into the forest in hot, wet pursuit of some wild animal.
I quickly rowed the boat to shore, calling his name, but it was too late. Cappy had already inserted himself deep into the forest. I heard loud rustling noises as he chased through the bush. And then I heard Cappy issue a series of very woeful whines.
By the time I caught up with Cappy, I didn’t need a field guide to know what animal he had chased. Obviously, a skunk. He had had been sprayed right in the face, up close and personal. He smelled unbelievably bad, so bad that to linger anywhere near him was painful to the nose. It was even worse than a large convention of stinky bean curd vendors.
I washed Cappy repeatedly, but this was no use in ridding his fur of the stink.
Back at the main lodge, guests who had played with Cappy before now shunned him like a leper. Gregarious Cappy was saddened by this sudden pattern of avoidance. He sulked in the corner.
The next evening I went to the local eatery, Bill and Holly’s bar and grill, located on a country road out in the middle of the forest, 30 minutes’ drive from the nearest town. The proprietors, Bill and Holly, had been there for a long, long time, enduring many cold winters. Both were colorful, entertaining characters, and resourceful country folk.
The bar had a pinball machine in one corner, a coin-operated bowling machine in the other, and lots of big stuffed fish and animal heads mounted on the walls.
Behind the bar were mirrors festooned with local and regional beer brand logos; Blatz (“The Beer that Made Milwaukee Famous”), Pabst, Hamms, Leinenkugels, etc.
Bill was fairly tolerant of me, despite the fact that I was a city kid, a Chicagoan, and a student at an Ivy League University — which placed me in kind of “suspect until proven O.K.” category in his eyes.
I told him the story of Cappy’s encounter with the skunk. He listened very matter of factly, seemingly unimpressed. I added that the resort guests had avoided Cappy ever since, leaving poor Cappy very sad and lonely.
After I finished my story, he asked me — as if it were the most obvious question in the world under the circumstances — whether or not I had given Cappy a bath in tomato juice.
I first thought this might be a trick question aimed at embarrassing me, but Bill insisted.
He told me to go to the supermarket in town, buy a large can of tomato juice, bring it home, and bathe Cappy in it. He promised it would remove the skunk smell.
He obviously thought I was the only idiot within a hundred miles or more who was not aware of “the tomato juice solution.”
I followed his instructions the next day. It worked. Cappy was delighted. So was I.
So now the question is: is tomato juice also effective at removing the smell issued by Chinese skunks? I am guessing that whatever the Chinese solution to skunk smell is, it’s been around since at least the Ming Dynasty, if not longer.
Dear knowledgeable readers: please enlighten me!