A Pig Is a Pig
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Early morning I refuel the pickup and load enough food and water to keep us going without stopping for anything but a mid-road piss. I want to be there before nightfall, when all the crazies come out of the sewer to prowl and moan and become roadkill: cleaning blood off my grill is not how I plan to spend my vacation. I finish loading, double-check, grab the shotgun, and off I go.

Of course, there’s still the issue of the pig and its owner, Jerry. I don’t really like Jerry, but he’s the only guy brave or stupid enough to raise pigs and advertise it: “Jerry’s Prized Pigs”, the sign next to his property says in bold red letters. Nowadays having that kind of publicity is bound to attract the wrong crowd – raiders, madmen, wild pigs with revolutionary aspirations – but he doesn’t seem to mind at all. “Just invest in better security,” he shrugs whenever I bring it up after a few drinks. One day, it’ll be the death of him.

The sun’s just rising when I get to Jerry’s farm and honk thrice. It takes him a while to deactivate the electric fence and beckon me inside. It seems he hasn’t shaken sleep off yet. Over coffee, eggs, and bacon – from his prized pigs no less – we discuss the route we’re taking and how much it will cost us to get into the main event. Jerry is pretty sure that the pig is eye-catching enough to get us in for free, but I urge him to consider we might have to bribe or bargain with whoever’s in charge.

“How much do you have on you?” he concedes at last with his thick Jamaican accent. “About five kilos of flour and some frozen goods. I ain’t risking more than that,” I respond.

Jerry rolls his eyes as if pitying me and pulls out an unlabeled bottle of clear liquid. “Salvaged from some fancy place up in California,” he explains. “Almost cost me a hand, but I hear people are crazy about it. Not bad for bargaining.”

We finish our breakfast, then Jerry takes me down to see the pigpens. For a business as dirty as this, his facility is remarkably clean: sterile white walls, polished floors, drainage and running water for every pen. “Pigs are filthy,” he says. “If you let them, they’ll eat, fight and fuck in their own shit and love it. That’s why I always make sure to have a hose in hand. I read somewhere that they used them as punishment for misbehaving – a bath is probably hell for them.”

“I wouldn’t know,” I reply. “Never been one to ask a pig its opinion.”

Jerry unlocks one of the pigpens and invites me in. The pig inside is not chained or otherwise restrained, but there’s no need – I can tell by the look in its cold blue eyes that it’s got no fight left in it. It simply observes us from the corner where it’s made its bed and waits.

“It’s old.” My first thoughts come out blunt. It’s not that I don’t trust Jerry’s judgement – he’s trained pigs to do some impressive tricks like making a pyramid out of their bodies or squeal when told to – but this one just doesn’t seem like it’s up to the task. Its belly is too big, too swollen with age, and its knees seem rather weak. Worst of all, the machine grafted atop its heart is not a good sign: a bad heart is, rather obviously, not good for physical strain.

“I know what you’re thinking, but I’d bet my life on this one,” Jerry says. “I bought it from the Mexican a couple of months ago. Got lucky too. From what she tells me, this is the last one of its breed – the rest she shipped up to Chile and El Salvador. They’re slaughtering them there in some big folk party or such.”

“So it’s special. That’s what you’re getting at, right?”

“It better be. The Mexican is not a woman known her for cheap prices. She did assure me it’s in perfect health for its age, other than the heart thing. Either way, it starts going cold on us, we just jolt it back to life – that’s what the machine’s for.”

“And what merits does it have to make it so special?”

“Hmmm,” Jerry muses. “Back when its kind ran the world, this one led quite the pack of feral pigs. Went around making mayhem, taking names, razing crops, always getting away with it. Wonder how many people it gored or trampled before the skies burned. It’s old, yes – but man, it’s got history! That’s got to give us some points, right?”

It does indeed. A pig with as many achievements as this one is sure to be a contender for the center stage – and if enough people bet on it, our vacation might just turn up some profit. Still, with such weak knees…

“Can it stand up?” I ask.

“Sure,” Jerry laughs and palpates the remote hanging from his belt. The pig’s pupils dilate with fear. “With the right motivation, I can make it fly.”

Some five hours later, we pop up in what’s left of New York City and speed past the buildings overtaken by lush greenery. I wish we had more time to enjoy nature’s conquest of the metropolis, but I’m more concerned with getting to our destination in time. Besides, with all the bears and wolves that have started showing up – not to mention the feral pigs that still populate their fallen city – I’d rather not risk it.

We stop at a ruined McDonalds’ so Jerry can take a piss while I stay back to watch the truck and the pig. The old thing has been getting restless the more we close in on ground zero, and its squeals almost sound like pleading when I put a bag over its head. Once a stone-cold killer, it’s now a shuddering mess that winces whenever I cock the shotgun. All that ruthlessness the Mexican talked about seems to have been just for show.

Of course, it could just be playing pretend. Pigs are devious things, creatures who very much miss the time when they made the rules, and they’ll do anything they must to regain their lost power. Hence why communing with pigs is very much playing Russian roulette – you never know when they’ll take their chance to strike and dig their ugly tusks into your flesh. Showing mercy signals a death wish, some pig farmers have told me: never look them in the eyes for too long, or they might just tug the right strings to make you think of them as equals. No. What once was must never be again; the world – even this blemished land – is much better off with humans in charge.

“You really think they’ll pick this one up?” I ask Jerry when he returns. It’s his time to drive.

“Still having doubts, huh?” He smiles while the engine roars back to life. “Let me tell you a little story. After I bought the pig, I had some guests over for dinner. One of them, fella by the name of Naser, took quite an interest in my stock. He was in Iraq, you see – on the right side. So I took him down to see the pigs, and his eyes went real wide when he saw this one. I could tell he recognized it, and then he said Any of my brothers would have eaten their own feet just for a go at it. He did try to buy it, but I didn’t budge; I convinced him to acquire some of my Ohio stock instead, told him it’d be good payment for Kandahar. Point is whatever this pig did back then will be more than enough to get us into the center stage. I guarantee it.”

“I thought Muslims didn’t eat pork,” I quip.

“They don’t, but for this kind of pig… hell, everyone is willing to make an exception.”

We reach ground zero by noon. What little civilization is left in New York huddles together here, at the place where it all started: a maze of haphazardly maintained stone and steel buildings that green has not yet devoured surrounds a citadel of tents and shacks for both permanent residents and out-of-town visitors. We park the truck and pay the watchman’s fee to keep it and our pig safe until we’ve found out where the main event is.

Everyone is here for their own little trade and fun – there’s lots of men, and lots of pigs. Some are already lined up for potential buyers; owners sing their praises for health, strength, breed’s flavor… all and anything you need to know before you purchase your own.

“If all else fails, we can auction it off here,” I whisper to Jerry. “Maybe some Afghan or Iraqi will pay top buck for it.”

“No way,” he replies. “It’s the big show or nothing.”

We spread out to find the auditorium, and I take a peek at what others have brought. The pigs – all white meat – squeal and moan and thrash in their cages and pens like they anticipate what is to come. Animals like these – the Mexican once told me – can sense death approaching. They revel in it… or they used to, when they were not the ones on the chopping block. Back when men, women, and children were on the menu, they licked their snouts in anticipation of feast and plunder, feeling righteous in their unending hunger. Now, they lie in chains and hope the butcher will slice quick and precisely.

I come to a group that enjoys beer by a bonfire. Over it, a spit roast simmers with delicious fat. I almost choke as my mouth waters, but I must show some decorum when approaching what no doubt are fellow travellers here for the main event.

“Couldn’t wait until it got started, could you?” I smile at them.

“We got three more waiting back there,” the leading man – tall and dark-skinned – points at the three shuddering sows chained to a lamppost. “Name’s Sinclair. What about you, stranger?”

“Juan,” I reply. He hands me a beer, and I happily accept his offer of friendship.

“Here for the main event, then,” Sinclair says. “You wouldn’t know where it’s at, would you?”

“Was hoping you’d know. Strange to think we’re all here looking for the same place, yet nobody can point a finger in its direction.”

“There’s a reason for it. Word is they brought in the Big P himself to perform. He prefers to get to places unnoticed; supposedly they’ll announce it last minute.”

“Lot of mystique around this one, huh?” I reply. My answer found, I relax and turn the conversation towards his sows. “Which one do you think he’ll take?”

“I’m not a man who bets,” Sinclair concedes. “I prefer to keep low and just enjoy the show, no matter whose pig ends up on that stage. But I’m guessing you came here with hopes for your own pigs.”

“Just the one. Either it gets picked, or… well, I don’t think it’ll taste too good, either. It’s old, you see. Almost too old to be contending here.”

“You never know. Sometimes, it’s the ugliest, dirtiest, oldest pig that wins. Sure used to be like that back in their time,” he smiles, and we toast. He’s right: maybe our pig does have a chance to triumph.

As dusk sets in, we toss the pig a blanket so it won’t turn into a cold cut before we’re done. I cannot tell whether it’s shuddering because of the cool night air or because it understands that destiny is very close at hand. Jerry, on the other hand, has managed to ingratiate himself with some fellow pig farmers; they’re now discussing the many merits their pigs have, trying not to discuss too much information that might actually tip the other on the true value of their stock. Gentlemen’s rules apply, even here.

I take Sinclair to my truck and show him the pig and its little chest-mounted gadget. He’s impressed, I can tell. Seems not many pigs come with integrated machinery.

“Whoever put this on your pig spent some serious cash on keeping it running. They wanted it to stay alive,” he says, and leans in closer to observe the device. “Quite a potent gadget: you could revive it all the same as fry it if you apply too much current. Is that why you think it’ll last up there?”

“Jerry sure thinks so. I’m trusting him to make it last.”

“Well, friend, I wish you good luck. Seeing this one perform is sure to be quite the show.”

As we shake hands, a voice like thunder starts going out of unseen speakers, announcing that we are all to head with our pigs to the ruined building that stands at the edge of the tent citadel. The main event is ready for us, and the Big P will now take his pick.

“Admittance fee,” the crook at the door says, and I feel my worries vindicated. We hand over our goods, which the organizers greedily take.

Jerry prods the pig and we force it to crawl its way towards the building’s golden light. The pigs around us are likewise chained, masked and gagged – kept from making much noise that might take away our appetite for this nightly feast. We go down a flight of stairs into a basement that once served as a fridge; the hooks hanging from the ceiling betray its ancient purpose. Sinclair is not too far away, his friends directing the sows to stay together.

The air smells stale in the basement. There’s almost fifty living beings down here, not counting the pigs. Amidst the cloud of dry ice, I can see the stage, where dark figures move hurriedly to make way for the man dressed in stained whites. The one we are all here for.

“Good night, my fellow butchers,” he says in hoarse voice. I cannot see his face; only his brown, bloodshot eyes protrude from under the pig mask he’s wearing – or is it the real deal, freshly skinned for the night? “We have quite the show for you tonight. I am honored to be your opening act.”

I cheer with the crowd. My voice, Jerry’s own – and the screams of the multitude of men and women – become a single call for glorious entertainment. The pigs tremble and grasp their chains. But the humans… oh, we revel, we praise. I can feel my face beaming up like a man of faith bathed in holy light, clasping my hands and begging to be chosen.

“I am your very own Big Pork,” the man in white says. His apron is filthy beyond mention, and his boots leave behind rusty footprints. “And I am here to select the main course. You have brought me your best stock, the dirtiest, guiltiest pigs you could find. But only one of them can truly make it in show biz. Are you ready?”

We cheer again, and line up our pigs for the Big Pork to choose. He leans in real close, kneeling next to each one and inspecting their faces, gazing deep into their eyes like he wants to see their soul – assuming pigs have such a thing. He seems unimpressed so far, like they’re not heinous enough to merit his special treatment. That is, until Jerry unmasks our pig and Big Pork’s eyes widen with recognition.

“Oh, look at you,” he says, and his voice is moist with anticipation. “You’ll do, old one. You’ll do.”

The multitude claps and jeers as Big Pork reveals the winner and drags it up to the stage, where his assistants have set up all his equipment. Jerry is ecstatic, so much that he’s almost crying, and I can relate to his excitement: it seems he was right all along. He fiddles with the remote for the pig’s chest device and readies his eyes in case it flatlines before Big Pork is done. When this is over, I’ll owe him a beer and an apology for doubting his judgement. I can see Sinclair in the middle of the crowd, and he silently congratulates us with a big grin.

Big Pork starts the show, and we jump in our skins whenever he edges closer to the big one. His foreplay is delicate, artistic in its design and execution, meant to entice the senses and make us wonder how long the pig can take it. I know I should be horrified – we all know – but I just can’t stop looking, gawking at the beauty of it all. Does this make me less of a man, though I know the pig deserves it? Does it speak of a darker nature, a nature shared perhaps with the ones we drive to the chopping block? I do not care to imagine pigs as my equals, just like they never saw the Afghan or the Salvadorean or the Mayan as more than mere meat to be ground and eaten and shat out again. But maybe, just maybe, the dissimilarities do not go beyond who holds the leash and who is strangled by it: one day you're the master, the next day you're the flesh. By the time Big Pork gets really frisky, we’re all almost foaming at the corners of our mouths, elated as he takes out his big prod and gets to it. The pig flinches and squirms and begs, but there ain’t no stopping until it’s over. Even when it tries to run away into the beyond, Jerry simply zaps it back to consciousness and the show goes on and on. And all the while, the other pigs squeal and shudder.

After two hours, Big Pork has finished doing the deed of darkness, and we let the pig be at peace. We cheer his performance – both their performances – and he bows before leaving us to the other showmen and the next pigs in line. But I’ve had enough: the sounds and images are forever etched across my memories, so I join Sinclair and Jerry in drinking the night away. Guess I should have always known that this would make a great show: a pig named “Dick” is sure to make the most delightful squeals.

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