More than a few days late on this week’s column, though I’m trying my darndest to be less of a flagrant apologizer (’sides, this is supposed to be the column of a confessor, which carries with it some taint—or at least the perpetual threat—of failure). Anyways, in all my mulling over of explanations and excuses (that lethargy-inducing Northeast heatwave, a beyond deadline review of the Rambo Complete Collector’s Set DVDs, all those unwatched Miami Vice episodes from Netflix), I kept flashing on a specific memory from adolescence. I’ve learned to trust and engage with my synapses when they repeatedly try to tell me something, and I have a few ideas as to what they were saying with this one. But let’s let the tale speak for itself:
In the early 90s, my family and I took a trip to Greece. I was in high school, either first or second year (not entirely certain). Our primary stops were the city of Athens and the islands of Kea and Zakynthos. I’d brought along two prized possessions: a red hardcover edition of Stephen King’s The Stand (complete and uncut—apocalyptic prologue/epilogue, Trashcan Man & The Kid masturbation scene, et al) and a new Hi8 video camera which I wielded with abandon (even put it, in record mode, through an airport security X-Ray machine, much to the chagrin of all gathered adults). I tore through The Stand in Athens (only so much outdoor smog and pollution one can take), showered with cockroaches on Kea (the built-into-the-hillside grandeur of the village we stayed in more than made up for that), and went swimming, sans clothing, in a cliffside alcove on Zakynthos (blue sea stretching on for soul-stoking miles).
By that cliffside was a giant tree that looked like a mutated head of broccoli and tied to which was a hairy, mud-caked pig. There’s perhaps nothing so beautiful as something so ugly—my father and I took to the animal instantly, petting it, giving it little bits of food. I soon noticed that a bunch of flies were gathering around the pig’s neck. A closer inspection showed that the rope around it was tied so tight that it had dug into the pig’s flesh. It looked like it was being slowly decapitated, an inch at a time, the skin seemingly infected and irritated, the color of raw bacon (though, strangely, no complementing smell). We visited the pig every day we were on the island, and towards the end of our stay we hatched a plan. My dad was a Boy Scout after all, and if there’s one thing Boy Scouts know, it’s knots. So, our thinking goes, why not make a body harness for the pig, one that we could slip over its front, giving the neck wound some necessary respite?
We knew we had to be somewhat sneaky with this, because the pig was owned by a hotel proprietor just down the way from where we were staying. (He had heard secondhand that we were concerned about the pig’s wounds and reportedly offered little more than a dismissive laugh.) I accompanied my father and our traveling companion Clif (a good friend of the family) to the cliffside tree. We each of us had a gadget—my father, the makeshift harness; Clif, the shears to cut the existing rope; me, the video camera to record it all for posterity—which led me to think of us as secret agents on a mission to rescue a colleague from behind enemy lines. (I’m pretty sure I hummed to myself—expectantly, excitedly—both the James Bond theme and the Ennio Morricone opener from The Untouchables.)
Initially, the pig was very cooperative. He lay down on his side for us while Clif took the shears to a slack part of the rope. I was worried he’d think we were trying to slit his jugular, but he remained calm all throughout the untethering. The rope came off with relative ease, though it looked like a diseased thing, a rancid umbilical flecked with dried blood and skin, crawling with maggots. My dad started to slip the body harness over the pig’s front legs.
And then it squealed. And it jumped to its feet and started bouncing around, hind legs to front, hind legs to front. (I’m recording all this with the camera, backing away from the animal ’less it charges, and screaming out a somewhat self-conscious and put-upon blasphemy—“Jesus Christ! Jesus Christ!”—as if I’m a talentless ingenue at a Broadway audition.) The pig ran around the tree and settled for a second. My dad and Clif moved towards it slowly, harness in hand. And then it started bouncing and squealing again, thrashing wildly, driving my dad and Clif back.
They gave it one more try, and this time succeeded in getting the harness fully around the pig’s front legs. At which point he ran ahead with all his might, breaking the rope and tearing off into the nearby thrush. We all gave each other bemused glances and shrugs. Mission sort of accomplished. At least the pig was free of that rope, and also, we reasoned, able to roam to his heart’s content.
We found out soon after (secondhand) that the pig didn’t belong to the man down the road, but to the owner of the hotel at which we were currently staying. Check-out time couldn’t come fast enough—it was like we were anarchists residing in the home of the enemy. We left the hotel the next morning with no one the wiser and decided to swing around, one last time, to the scene of the crime.
And there was the pig, lying lazily in the shade of the giant tree, its neck still irritated, flies nesting within, no rope to be seen.
Keith Uhlich is Editor of The House Next Door and a contributor to various print and online publications.