“Hey, you guys need help?” I asked through the rolled down window of my Tacoma. My wife and daughter and I had just rolled up on two very large pigs strolling down the middle of Main Street in Garfield, Washington, looking for all the world like a mother and daughter on a Sunday stroll after their church potluck. My daughter had broken her ankle earlier in the year and we were just returning from an appointment with the very tan orthopedic doctor who spent half the year fishing in Mexico and the other half the year taking money from people whose daughters are sure they know how to long board, but realize too late that it’s a lot harder than it looks. He was sure he could fix it… for a price. It had been a long morning and I was looking forward to being home.
“Dude! Yes.” He was dressed in ratty blue jeans, a filthy tan hoodie, and had a Steeler’s stocking cap pulled low over a greasy, brown, party in the back. He weighed all of 120 pounds and his tattoo to tooth ratio was about two to one. I jumped out of my truck. I was thankful that I wasn’t driving my Prius because nobody in Eastern Washington or Idaho trusts a guy in a Prius (best car ever btw). I slowly walked towards the animals with an eye to getting in front of the 300-pound beasts. Tattoo guy jumped around, yelling and waving his arms trying to get the pigs to do something – what, I’m not sure, but from the looks of it he was trying to stampede them into the sunset. As we danced with the pigs a stocky guy in a lambskin jacket and Carharts came out of a large, brick building and began yelling at him. Over the door stood a huge statue of a full grown, red and white Hereford steer. “Hmm. That’s kind of cool.” I thought.
“Dang it, Billie (only he didn’t say dang it). Didn’t I tell you to let me know when you was going to let the pigs out of the trailer?” Billie redoubled his jumping and whistling effort, trying to look like he was doing something important or at least trying to give the impression that he working really hard to rectify the situation. He never looked at yelling guy as he flailed, but hollered back, “They just jumped out!” The pigs ambled on ignoring all three of us. The guy, whom I assumed was Billie’s boss, saw me and yelled, “Try to cut them off and head them back this way.” I could tell by the tone of his voice that he knew I was an experienced swineherd. It was probably my running shoes, Kuhl pants and the black Vandal’s sweatshirt I was wearing, but I had him completely fooled because in actuality my only experience with swine was when I helped my friend Gary feed and run his fair pig back in high school.
Most of my friends in high school belonged to 4H and had some variety of fair animal they were working on. Being the new guy from the Great White North, I had no idea how and no desire to want to learn what it took to have a fair animal. Heck, I had just seen cows up close for the first time and wanted nothing to do with them. They were big and kicky and unpredictable. When my friends sold their animals to generous farmers at the fair auction it seemed that the most money was made by owning a steer, but even though you made a lot less money, running a pig seemed to me to be the way to go. From what I could tell, you just fed them, walked them around a bit, brought them to the fair, washed them and then used a big stick to poke them around a ring until you got a ribbon. Then you sold them, made your two hundred bucks and walked away. Pig are said to be intelligent, but in actuality, they’re not all that smart.
Because of my “extensive” training I did know enough not to make any fast motions or sudden movements. Boss guy began clicking softly to the pigs like he knew them. They hesitated and looked at him like he might have had food. It was enough of a distraction for me to find my way to the front of them where I stretched out my arms in a gesture that looked like I wanted a hug, but all pigs know this arm position to mean “none shall pass.” I walked slowly towards them in an effort to get them to stop and turn.
I’ve seen large, snotty, aggressive swine before, the kind that will grind you into the mud, then sit on you until you drown and then eat you, but these weren’t like that and looked for all the world like they were going out for an afternoon stroll to check on Mildred, their aging aunt, before heading home for their evening bowl of Purina Nutristart and a belly scratch from their owner Tammy, a blue eyed, blonde haired little girl who was named after Tammy Wynette because her mom just loved the song Stand By Your Man since it always reminded her of how she stood by little Tammy’s dad even though he was a no-good drunk. Tammy’s dad didn’t drink any more, but gambled a lot and Tammy’s mom didn’t really know which was worse.
Big Wilbur stopped and stared at me with his close-set, beady eyes. Little Wilbur bumped into his rear end, stopped and looked up too. Dumb and Dumber I thought as I stared at them, but there was an intelligence in Big Wilbur’s eyes that belied any dumbness. He eyed me for a good long time as if weighing his options: run right through the old guy with glasses or head back to the flailing tattoo guy. I raised my arms up and down and took a step toward him. He turned and ambled off towards the sidewalk with little Wilbur following. I slowly walked with them and little by little was able to turn them back towards the trailer out of which they had just made their escape. Things were looking very, very good and I would soon be on my way. I was already patting myself on the back for having done what I considered to be my very smug and helpful good deed of the day.
Clicking Boss guy was shaking a big silver bowl of food in such a way even I thought sounded really appetizing and the pigs doubly so. They picked up their pace a bit as he backed his way towards the metal trailer ramp. He backed up the ramp and Big Wilbur followed him docilely in. Little Wilbur put one hoof on the metal and proceeded to stumble and slip and fall down the ramp with a huge crash. Flailing Billie, seizing what he thought was a prime opportunity to redeem himself, rushed little Wilbur, grabbed him by his haunches and tried to force the 300-pound beast into the trailer. Little Wilbur was taken aback by being grabbed on the behind and kicked at Billie. By this time Big Wilbur had heard enough. He caught the bowl in his teeth and turned to run. The bowl caught the edge of the trailer sending it clashing to the floor like a dinner bell coming off its hinges. Both animals squealed and bolted, knocking me and Flailing Billie to the ground.
Boss guy shot out of the trailer, picked me up by my shirt, shoved a pig board into my hands (a pig board is a big wooden board used to separate pigs when they fight) and pushed me up the sidewalk to try to get in front of the pigs who were trotting off (yes, pigs do trot) down the center of the road again, stopping “rush hour” traffic which consisted of two grain trucks, one bank-out wagon, the Avista bucket truck and a field sprayer. Everyone bailed out of their vehicles and tried to stop the stampeding pigs. Avista guy was knocked over, bank-out wagon guy was trampled, and as the animals came closer to field sprayer guy, he made a feeble attempt to stop them, thought better of it, then just hugged the side of his truck and let them run on by.
We all watched as the pigs slowed and turned onto the porch of a beautifully landscaped home on the north side of the road. They went through the gate and up onto the porch like they owned the place. They didn’t. Now they were trapped, but what do you do with pigs on a porch? About this time I turned, looking for some guidance from Clicking Boss Guy. When I saw him I had an inkling that these weren’t little Tammy’s 4H pigs and I knew instantly that things had just gotten very, very serious. Boss guy was no longer clicking softly to the pigs. He was pissed and it wasn’t just his furrowed brow and angry eyes that clued me into the impending doom. It was more the AR-15 that he was walking down the middle of the street with.
There are some people who know how to hold a gun and there are some people on whom guns just look good, like they’ve been a part of their lives for a very long time. Big Gun Boss Guy was the latter. He looked for all the world like a guy straight out of Lone Survivor. A huge dust cloud swirled across the road and as he stepped through it, the sun glinted off his yellow shooting glasses and, if his arms had been bare, they would have glistened with the sweat of exertion, but the pigs weren’t done yet.
Everyone was helping now, calling to the pigs and circling around to block off every means of escape and in all the excitement the pigs bolted off the porch. For all our bravado, none of us got in their way. Their hooves dug large chunks of paint off the porch and they galloped (yes, pigs gallop) back towards the trailer and safety. We all kind of trotted after them. The pigs had separated now and Little Wilbur stopped in the middle of the road looking for direction from his friend, but Big Wilbur had moved on. Big Gun Boss Guy was having none of it. He raised his rifle and took aim. “No Good! No clear shot! Abort firing.” He was talking to himself now. Little Wilbur seeing his friend, jogged (yes, pigs jog) over and stood by him. They continued to move towards the trailer. Big Gun Boss Guy pointed at me with two fingers and then pointed forward. No words were spoken, but I took my pig board and my flaccid upper body and “sprinted” forward keeping to the sidewalk side of the pigs. They suddenly stopped. Big Gun Boss Guy held up a fist – the universal sign for everyone to halt. We halted, all eyes trained on him.
With two fingers he pointed at Avista Truck guy and then at the pigs. Avista Truck Guy nodded and moved slowly forward. He pointed with both hands at everyone else and motioned for them to fan out and they all fanned out like a high school flag corp lining up on the sidelines behind the football team just before the halftime show. He motioned for them to follow behind and, as one, they all moved slowly forward like zombies from Walking Dead.
The pigs saw what was happening and turned towards me. I held my pig board with one hand and with the other wagged my finger at them and with my best Dikembe Mutombo impression said, “No, no, no pigs! NOT IN MY HOUSE!” They sneered at me. All three of us knew I didn’t stand a chance. I braced myself for the onslaught. I was not going to be the weak link that let my team down. Lives were at stake and I took my duty seriously. The pigs rolled their eyes (yes, pigs roll their eyes) and continued their journey to the safety of the trailer. Big Gun Boss Guy nodded at me in approval and I stood a little taller.
I was starting to relax a bit now. The pigs were moving in the right direction and they would soon be back into the trailer and on their way home to Tammy. Big Gun Boss Guy had relaxed a bit, too, and I could tell he was relieved that he didn’t have to shoot the pigs in the neighbor’s yard or in the middle of the street. What a mess that would have been, not to think about all the paperwork for insurance. We had won the day with an overwhelming show of force. This battle would have a happy ending.
The pigs wandered back to the side of the building and stopped in the shade. Even though there was snow on the ground they were tired and hot and looked for all the world like they just needed a drink. I looked over at Dream Crusher and Molly and they looked so proud. Molly was even filming my heroics. What an amazing day of helping. I would remember this for a long time. What a day. “Stop!” Big Gun Boss Guy had pointed at me and signaled to hold my place. I did. I was ready to be done with this and go home. I leaned my board against the side of the trailer and turned to go.
Big Gun Boss Guy held the gun at his shoulder and he was drawing a bead on Big Wilbur. Both pigs just stared at him. There was a sound like a gun shot because, well, it was a gun shot, and then another sound like a gun shot and I heard Dream Crusher and Molly scream. When I looked, Big Wilbur and Little Wilbur were peacefully sleeping next to each other in the snow.
Big Gun Boss Guy lowered his gun and looked at me. “All righty then!” I said as nonchalantly as possible. He nodded and I gave him a wink and double finger guns, then realized what I was doing, thought better of it, and kind of feebly waved as he turned to walk away. He slung the rifle across his back and made his way towards the building. I walked in the general direction of my truck not taking my eyes off him, but as he entered the building the trance was broken and my eyes swung up to the big steer above the doorway. On the side of the building, right above the enormous bovine, in big white letters it read: “Garfield Meats.”
I got into my truck and sat there for a few moments trying to process what had just happened. I have hunted and seen things killed, but never on Main Street, Anywhere, USA and I was a bit in shock. I felt like I had been transported a hundred years into the past and, except for the AR15, I could have been standing in Maycomb, Alabama watching Atticus Finch kill the rabid dog before it bit anyone. “Well, that was a bit surreal, wasn’t it?” I said with a lightness I didn’t feel. I looked at Dream Crusher. She was pale, looking for all the world like she wanted to kill me for stopping. I nodded, started the truck, and looked at Molly in the rear view mirror. Tears were streaming down her cheeks. “Oh, honey. I’m sorry. Are you okay?” I asked. “He killed them?” was all she could say. I put the truck in gear and pulled back onto the road. “No, honey. Those were tranquilizer darts. The pigs are just sleeping. Very soon they will be on their way back home to Tammy.” Only I didn’t tell her “on the way back to Tammy to be put in her freezer.” Some things are better left unsaid.