Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Unfortunate Pig

I met a pig today.

Not on purpose. It was one of those weird little incidents that, while not necessarily life-changing, you never forget simply because it is one of those times when you wonder how things would have turned out if you’d have done just one thing differently.

While I was at school (I‘m a teacher), my wife called saying she locked herself out of the house, and wanted me to come home and let her in. Good timing, really, because this was just when my lunch started. I had roughly forty minutes to get home, unlock the house and get back before my next class started. I was a little miffed having to skip lunch to bail her out, but that anger subsided when I remembered it was chicken nugget day in the cafeteria (my school’s nuggets have roughly the same taste and consistency as a plate of Hacky-Sacks).

I made it home in about 15 minutes. The driveway gate was open when I pulled in. We’re usually pretty good at keeping it closed, since Murphy, our wheaten terrier, isn’t exactly the brightest crayon in the box. But after climbing from my car, I saw Murphy was actually trapped in the house, barking at me through the living room window (his eyesight ain’t so great either). I had expected my wife to be sitting on the porch with a sheepish grin on her face, but she wasn’t.

Figuring she was in the garage on the treadmill to pass the time, I headed toward the back of the house. And that’s when I saw it…a pig. Not a very big one, about the size of our dog, pushing his snout through some weeds on the side of the house.

Okay, so it’s not like I just spotted a giant squid flopping around in my yard. But I live in Portland, Oregon, not exactly Times Square, but not Green Acres, either. My house sits on a busy street just a few blocks away from a 7-Eleven, a wrecking yard and a strip club. How in the hell did a pig end up here? Until now, the most unusual animals to venture onto my property were the occasional frogs climbing the side of my house, and two raccoons humping atop the storage shed one night. And I guess there was also the time my neighbors decided to fill their pond with crawdads; one of the critters apparently did not like the new living arrangements and kept crossing the property onto our driveway. I returned it to them twice before my neighbors finally realized crawdads didn’t make great pets.

But this was a pig, and not one of those cute & fuzzy potbelly ones people adopt as pets. This was a pig pig, fat and pink, the kind most of us only come in contact with only after they’ve become pork chops. Okay, maybe he was a little cute, like the one in Babe. But still, he was wet, muddy and not something I'd want sitting in my lap.

I froze and stared, the reality of a farm animal on my property not really registering for a second. The garage door was open, and one of my wife’s disco CDs blasting from within (yep, she’s on the treadmill).

“Honey?” I called, which startled the pig from his burrowing to look up at me. “There’s a pig in our yard!”

She didn’t hear me, but the pig heard all he needed to before breaking into a sprint, whizzing past me as fast as his little piggy legs could carry him. He snorted as he went by, obviously terrified, toes clicking on the driveway as he scurried out the open gate.

“Hey, wait!” I yelled, feeling immediately stupid, as if the beastie would suddenly stop, rear his head and reply, “What is it, Dave?”

Hell, my own dog doesn’t come to me when I call him.

Still, I felt a bit panicked and chased after him. We live on a busy road, and I worried he might run out into traffic. He may not have been a beloved pet, but that didn’t mean I wanted to see him get pancaked by an SUV.

By the time I reached the end of the driveway, he was nowhere to be seen. I was a bit relieved at the time. At least he didn’t run out into the road. He must have disappeared into the neighbor’s bushes or something.

Finished on the treadmill, my wife came out of the garage. I asked her if she had seen the pig in our yard. She looked at me like I just had a six-pack for lunch.

“I swear to god,” I claimed. “There was a pig  snooting around in the weeds. I hope he stays off the road.”

I could tell my wife thought I was making this up…or worse, hallucinating. In fact, she only half-jokingly suggested that very thing.

Anyway, after checking the time, I forgot about the pig. I had to get back to work fast to be in time for my next class. Kids are allowed a few mulligans when it comes to tardies, but teachers aren’t.

Back at school, I told the students in my next class about my pig encounter. None seemed too impressed. Granted, seeing a pig may not be as awe-inspiring as a UFO landing in your yard, but it isn’t like the streets of Portland are teaming with swine. The only comment I got back was from one girl, who asked, “Was it fat?” Yeah, like the pig’s size was the missing detail to make my lunchtime account a better story.

After the school day ended, I got home in time to join my wife in waiting for my daughter’s bus. On the way back from the bus stop, there was the little pig lying on the side of the road, about thirty feet beyond our driveway…


Fortunately, my little daughter had a friend with her, who she’d invited home for a play date, and in their quest to get home and start dressing Barbies, they didn’t notice him. I’m glad, because she only recently informed us she would no longer eat pork because pigs are cute animals.* Not only that, she doesn’t handle death too well just yet; she cried for two hours when a fifty-cent snail in her fish’s bowl died.

After the girls had vanished into the house, my wife and I ventured over to the dead pig, which was definitely nailed by a car. I guess he wandered out into the road after all.

“See?” I said to my wife victoriously. “I told you I wasn’t making this up.”

But inside, I was kind of sad. No, I don’t get upset every time I spot roadkill. In fact, part of me does a silent cheer whenever I see the bloodied carcass of a raccoon that met its end with a car bumper. Raccoons may be cute, but they are nasty, mean animals (and one beat the shit out of my cat once, which resulted in a $300 in veterinarian bill).

But a pig? In the city?** I do not know how he got there, but the little critter was obviously out of his element and probably scared to death. And as I looked down at his carcass (not a bloody, gory mess…just lying there on the sidewalk with his little black eyes still open, which actually made it worse), I started to wonder if I could have prevented this. What if I had closed the gate when I got home to let my wife in? What if I had tried to catch the little pig as he tried to flee my driveway?

I tried to reason with myself in order to feel better…he wasn’t my pig, and it wasn’t as if I had the property or resources to take care of a pig, even temporarily, while I scouted the neighborhood to find its owner. My wife suggested going to Zenger Farm, a nearby business which isn’t so-much an actual farm as it is a tiny agricultural Mecca for hipsters to congregate and buy pumpkins and wine. Maybe one of Zenger’s animals escaped. So I checked. But they had no pigs, just some chickens and bunnies for school kids to fawn over during field trips (just what purpose do bunnies actually serve on a farm, anyway?). After that, I felt I did all I could for the little pig.

As I write this, it is still lying on the side of the road, thirty feet from my driveway, as cars whiz by. I feel bad about that, because someone in my neighborhood is obviously missing a pig, and probably wondering where the hell he is. It ain’t like owning a cat. Face it, even if you love cats and probably think they return that love, you have to admit sometimes they just decide to take off and never return. But surely there must be someone missing their pig, even if they only intended to make bacon strips out of him.

And, as I write this, I’m thinking I should go outside with a few towels and hoist him off the sidewalk, away from the road where he met his death. Why? I don’t really know. It ain’t like we bonded or anything. I dunno…maybe it’s to make up for not trapping him in my yard earlier this afternoon. After all, he'd still be alive if I'd have just closed my driveway gate.
This dead pig isn’t my problem, so why am I making him my problem? It isn’t like I asked him to wonder into my yard.

I guess this is one of those ‘would’ve, could’ve should’ve’ moments we all face at some point in our lives, even though there is no way we could predict subsequent events in time to change the outcome. But that doesn’t always make us feel any better about how things turn out.

So, I still feel bad for the little pig that wandered into my driveway.

*She rescinded that proclamation just a couple of weeks later, when she awoke to the smell of bacon frying on the griddle last Sunday.

**No Babe jokes, please. I’m in mourning.

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