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The Taste of Stardust

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Starsky expelled an impatient sigh as he tapped the LTD’s window crank in a rapid tattoo. “Where the hell is that witness, uh, what’shizname?”

Hutch checked his notebook. “Christian McDowell. And he’s a possible witness. Maybe he’s still at work.”

“I told ya we shoulda gone there. We’d be done and at Huggy’s downing a few cold brews right now.”

“Starsk, you know this park is a safe place for him to talk with us, given that one of his co-workers is a murder suspect.”

“I know we gotta talk to him away --”

“But you’re bored and irritable and hungry. After all, it’s been a whole, what, two hours since you ate anything?”

“Closer to three, but I ain’t keeping track,” Starsky snapped.

The conversation screeched to a halt in the beater. The silence, however, lasted only a few minutes.

“Hey, Hutch, why do you put the dead leaves of your plants on the dirt of the plants they died on?”

“What kind of question is that?” Hutch was only mildly surprised at the out-of-the-blue question; Starsky had a history of asking questions that spilled forth from his convoluted thought pattern without warning or logic and had no connection with recent conversation.

“Well, I was thinking about eatin’ and food and then eatin’ food, and then remembered that you do that with those leaves. It made me wonder why, ya know?”

Hutch shook his head as if to clear the cobwebs spun by Starsky’s statement. “Uh, well, if the leaves died a natural death and weren’t diseased, letting them decompose on the soil, not dirt, helps nourish the plant. This happens all the time in forests and gardens.”

Starsky’s brow furrowed. “But ain’t that kinda like… cannibalism?”

Hutch stifled a laugh then sobered quickly. “You know, you may be on to something, Gordo.”

Starsky, mystified, asked, “I am?”

“Yeah. Cannibalism is defined as the eating of an animal’s flesh by an animal like itself.” Hutch pointed his index finger at Starsky. “And that includes humans because humans are animals. Why can’t plants be cannibals, too?”

Starsky batted away the “fjord finger,” as he sometimes called Hutch’s pointer in recognition of the man’s Norweigan heritage. “‘Cause plants ain’t got teeth, moron. They can’t eat.”

“Oh, but they can eat and do, just not like us. Take birds, for example.”

“The only place I’d take a bird is to the deep fryer or th’ oven.”

Hutch huffed impatiently. “Seriously, Starsky, we’re trying to have something akin to an intellectual conversation here.”

“Yeah? I thought we were just shootin’ the breeze, not come up with science stuff.”

“Well, you started this weird train of thought we’re on, so stay onboard for now. You got my brain thinking about possibilities and I like that so work with me here.”

“Fine! Who am I to deny you some gray matter gymnastics?”

“Starsk, you’re such a stand-up guy. Now, you must know birds don’t have teeth yet they eat. They have mouths and they swallow.”

“So even flamingos are toothless? I saw ‘em eat shrimps that time I was in Florida visiting Uncle Sherman and Aunt Mabel. Can’t see how they could eat shrimps without teeth. Had to chew ‘em to get ‘em small enough to get down those skinny necks.”

“They’re toothless, too. And so are humans when we’re born, and a lot of us are as we get older. Eating’s not all about chewing, but it’s always about putting food in mouths and swallowing.”

Starsky pondered that for a moment. “‘Kay, I’ll go for that. But plants ain’t got mouths. ‘Cept maybe those weird Venus Flytraps like we saw at Bay City Gardens. Ya know, I think maybe they’re aliens.” He shivered despite the warmth in the squash. “Hutch, gettin’ me trees for Christmas is fine, but none of those things, promise? Don’t think I could even close my eyes if one of those… plants was in my house.”

Hutch gave Starsky a reassuring pat on his thigh. “As soon as I get home, I promise I’ll cross ‘Venus Flytrap’ off my ‘Gifts for Starsky’ list.”

For two seconds, Starsky gaped at Hutch then pulled a face. “Hardy-har-har.”

Hutch, who had been holding in his laughter, let it out. “I love it when you’re gullible, Gordo.”

“I bet you do,” Starsky snarled. “Now, I say plants can’t be cannibals ‘cause they ain’t got mouths.”

“But would you agree that plants could be cannibal-like? They do take in nourishment from decayed plants.”

Starsky considered this for another moment, then conceded reluctantly, “Yeah, I guess.”

It was quiet in the car again for several minutes, during which Starsky practiced the footwork of the samba and Hutch eventually started humming the chorus of a song he was composing. Then…

“Hey, Starsk, you ever hear of the Big Bang?”

Starsky threw him a smirky grin. “Yeah. Had one the other night with --”

Hutch cut him off with a tongue cluck. “For once, can you keep your mind out of the gutter so we can have a normal conversation?”

Starsky snorted. “I kinda thought havin’ sex was normal and not guttery,” he muttered.

“Just let’s not talk about that right now. So, answer my question.”

“Uh, can you repeat the question, counselor?”

Hutch chortled at Starsky’s use of courtroom decorum. “You ever hear of the Big Bang? As it pertains to ‘science stuff’?”

“Not that I recall.”

“Well, it’s a theory that says the universe started out as a really small, very dense, and extremely hot, uh... hunk...”

“Hunk? Maybe you mean ‘hulk,’ as in ‘The Incredible’?”

“No, I mean ‘hunk’ or something like that. Something with mass, I suppose.”

“So the Catholics came up with this theory?”

Hutch rolled his eyes and mumbled, “There’s something really small and dense very close by.” He inhaled sharply to clear his mind of the image of Starsky’s head exploding in its own version of the Big Bang.

“No, they didn’t. Now just shut up and let me finish.”

Starsky opened his mouth, but that damn fjord finger popped up and pointed directly into his food trap. He closed it.

“It was physicists and mathematicians,” Hutch continued. “This hunk of matter” -- he gave Starsky the stink eye to keep him quiet -- ”they say exploded billions of years ago and that’s when the universe started. It’s been expanding ever since.” He paused. Starsky stared at him, lips and jaw working hard to keep from talking.

“Think about this,” Hutch said with awe. “If the scientists are right, and it looks like they probably are, everything in the universe is… stardust. Like that Joni Mitchell song.”

Starsky, no longer able to keep his mouth shut, said, “I thought Woodstock was a Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young song.”

“They recorded it, but Joni Mitchell wrote and recorded it.” Hutch started singing the final lines of the song:
We are stardust
Billion year old carbon
We are golden
Caught in the devil's bargain
And we've got to get ourselves
Back to the garden

Starsky joined him soon after he’d started. When they got to the last two lines, they belted them out with gusto. They laughed when a flock of nearby terns squawked and took flight.

Once they stopped laughing, Hutch continued with his theory.

“Just think of it, Starsk. Every living creature anywhere in the entire universe is stardust. That means everything, including us, are made of the same matter. Every creature is a cannibal. Well, maybe not strictly a cannibal by current definition. The definition would have to expand to include eating the flesh of one’s self and everything else.”

Starsky couldn’t hold back any longer. “Hutch, that’s just gross! And how can stardust taste so many different ways? It’s just one thing.”

“I’m saying it’s everything.”

“So you’re sayin’ when I drink beer or eat enchiladas, I’m eatin’ and drinkin’ myself? Or you? Even Dobey?”

Hutch, looking mighty pleased with himself, replied confidently, “Yes, I am. You catch on quick for a dummy.”

Starsky slumped dejectedly in his seat and let out a Bronx cheer. “I’ll never eat or drink anything ever again.”

Hutch snickered. “That’s not an option, bucko. You have to come to terms with reality.”

One edge of Starsky’s mouth twitched. “Don’t like your reality,” he grumped. “Yeah, I suppose I hafta, but it ain’t gonna be any time soon.”

Silence reigned once again in the LTD. Hutch eventually resumed humming and Starsky continued to slouch in his seat, crossing his arms and ankles.

It wasn’t long before Starsky turned to look at Hutch. “Ya know, buddy, I’m proud of you.”

Hutch looked back at his partner. “Oh, yeah? Why?”

“Well, all this talk about big bangs and cannibals and stardust… Well, I must be rubbin’ off on you. You’re startin’ to think like me.”

Hutch hung his head and partially covered his face with his left hand. “Oh, dear lord, I’ve gone down the rabbit hole without a safety rope,” he moaned.

“Ah, Hutch, that’s a good thing! I don’t always have to be the one to broaden your horizons. You can figure out some of the important questions on your own.” Starsky clapped his hands together once, then rubbed them together vigorously. “I’m starvin’.”

“Well, that didn’t take you very long,” Hutch muttered.

Starsky turned himself on the seat until he was kneeling in the middle of the bench, facing the back seat, his hip and leg trapping Hutch’s arm at his side.

“Ya know, Alice, I’ve given what you’ve said considerable consideration and decided that this is the way things are and I can live with that. Now, you got a hunk of tasty stardust in the back seat?”

Hutch shook his head in dismay. “Hutchinson, next time, keep your big mouth shut and let Starsky wax idiotic.”

the end

June 2021