Who Will Free the Flesh Pets?

Chapter Twelve — Photographs of the Past

In this panoramic shot, we see Charlie Fleischman, Sacramento's favorite son (at the time), addressing colleagues and stakeholders from around California at the Mondavi Center in Davis. His tailored Gabbana suit and modern haircut make him look like an actor receiving an award or a foreign billionaire attending a dinner at the President's private table. His skin glows a pale brown under the bright cluster of lights, the thin red line behind his ear invisible to the camera's eye. Bending off at the horizon of the shot we can see a line of balding heads belonging to attending medical luminaries, sitting in awe of the most powerful man in medicine, wondering still if the boy genius intends to fill their pockets with gold or put them out of business.

Another picture shows a blurry Fleischman, his hand outstretched to the camera. He is lying on his side surrounded by well-tended grass; the sun is punching through the side of his smiling face, distorting his appearance, making him seem like a part of his head is missing or concave. A band of loping hair not belonging to him obscures the other side of the frame.

The next features several scientists and lab assistants listening to Fleischman at the newly opened Sack Farm in West Sacramento. The first Sacks can be seen growing in the background and look like tiny piles of flesh. Fleischman is in a lab coat, his sleeves folded up to his elbows, and a lens flare erupts from the chiseled crystal of his gold watch.

A picture taken at an intimate dinner shows Fleischman leaning back in his chair, a broad smile conveying his pleasure with the company of his personal photographer. Behind him, an old brick wall is littered with holes and missing pockets of mortar. Fleischman's teeth are preternaturally white.

Fleischman's visit to his mother is the subject of another photograph. Her magnificent house, purchase earlier in the year, is still only partially furnished. The mother and son sit in two dining room chairs dragged into the huge empty living room so the photographer could capture the morning light. There is a small, empty table between them, making the picture feel like a political summit.

Several pictures taken from a car depict Fleischman's tour of the Sacramento he knew as a young man. He points to his childhood home, now foreclosed and vacant, weeds pushing apart the cracks in the concrete path he once avoided as he walked out to the sidewalk. Next we see Fleischman looking out at Jeff Simon's house, the only feature on his otherwise blank face is a sense of impatience. Last in the series shows Fleischman pushed back into his seat in the car, one hand rubbing his eyes, not from tears, but from fatigue or some sense of memory returning.

In one of Fleischman's favorite pictures from the time spent in Sacramento with Claire, he is seen surrounded by the mechanics still employed in his old shop. His jacket is off, his sleeves are again rolled up, and he is pointing at a torn-apart drivetrain. The mechanics seem to be laughing at a joke. Fleischman laughs as well, and Randy's right hand rests casually on his shoulder.

Fleischman attending a Hospice volunteer meeting led by Tina Smithson, Jeff's mother, was a popular photograph used by many local news agencies covering his visit to Sacramento. In the picture, Fleischman is seen sitting in a circle of volunteers, holding Tina's hand and the hand of another, unseen woman. Eyes closed, he and the others are seen listening to Tina's prayer.

Fleischman, looking dour and slightly frightened, is seen confronting a group of protestors outside of the Elk Grove Sack Farm. A serious, conservative-looking woman points a judgmental finger at him, her other hand holding a sign that reads, "Sack the Sacks!" To her right, another woman, less conservative in appearance, but weeping in disgust, is seen carrying a sign with the mantra of the once powerful anti-Sack army: It's Alive!

Lastly, we see the shot that you all know, the one that made it on the cover of Time Magazine and set Claire Livingston's phone ablaze for months to follow. Fleischman, in scrubs, with a pulled-down mask tucked neatly under his bristly chin, is leaning over a ten-year old girl named Colby. Suffering from vascular cancer, she is waiting to receive a liver extracted from a Sack grown in the Sacramento Farm. Peter Parsons stands behind Fleischman in the scene, ready to personally oversee the surgery. Instead of referencing the two men or the girl or the procedure she will endure, the title that would ultimately accompany the magazine article reads The Re-Evolution of Humanity: Playing God and Winning.

*****

I put the photographs back into the manila envelope where I've housed them for more than thirty years. Every so often, I take them out to remind myself of this man who I was for a short while. I find I don't recognize him. He is likely more a fictional character to me than to you.

Posted December 6, 2014 More Next Week!