A stack of photographs tumbled out from a drawer. Pigs in a garden. Hadn't seen them in years, but I instantly thought of this column. The wonder is I haven't reprinted it long ago. The first item is oddly topical, with the internet allowing us to complain about everything all the time. This ran was back when my column filled a page and had a joke at the end, and I have kept the original subheads and the parting stab at humor.
OPENING SHOT . . .
My wife and I honeymooned at a lovely spot—the Keeper's House, on Isle au Haut, in Maine's Acadia National Park. I still remember making the reservation, almost 20 years ago. The woman said that they had just one room available, but cautioned me that the room looked out over a dock, and at the end of the dock was a blue light, and the blue light sometimes bothered guests in that room, who complained that the light shone into their window, causing them dismay.
I said OK, we'd just have to cope with the blue light, as the room was the last available, and we really wanted to stay at the place, a rustic inn made from an old lighthouse keeper's house, with no phone and no electricity, accessed only by the daily mail boat.
So now we're stowing our luggage in the quaint room, with its mantle and candles and thick down comforter. Evening falls, and we look out the window, and begin to laugh, because the light is this little tiny cobalt blue light, way at the end of a dock, the size of a blue marble at this distance. The thought of someone being bothered by it, never mind complaining, was ludicrous.
And now the story can be told. I've been champing at the bit to tell it, for well over a month now. But my next-door neighbors had not yet moved away—they left last week. And I didn't want to get them into trouble with the pig police.
Which is an alien attitude, nowadays, in some parts of the Chicago area. Up in Lake Forest, for instance, where Robert and Kathleen Murphy sued their neighbor, Estelle Gonzales Walgreen, because she kept three pigs on her 2.3-acre property.
The Murphys said the pigs were loud, dirty and threatened their safety.
Which struck me as a joke. Because, as fate would have it, my next-door neighbor also had a couple of pigs—or so I was told, since I had never actually seen them myself. Never heard them. And never smelled them. Not once.
And I tried, craning my neck over the nice cedar fence my neighbor built to contain them. I considered asking, "Show me your pigs." But that seemed nosy.
Then one day last spring, around breakfast time, I blundered out the back door and, gasping, stopped dead in my tracks—there, in my neighbor's garden, which runs along the side of his house alongside my driveway, were pigs. Two big pigs, one pink, one black, nuzzling the greenery. I don't gasp often, but I gasped then because, really, one doesn't expect swine in the suburbs—well, not that kind of swine anyway.
The first thing I did, of course, was call the boys, who hadn't seen the pigs either. Then I grabbed a camera. Then I knocked on the neighbor's door, but nobody was home. The garage door was ajar, however, and my first concern was that somebody had broken into the garage, releasing the pigs.
I suppose I should have been thinking about filing my lawsuit ("discovery of said livestock caused an elevated heart rate and other as-yet-to-be-determined physiological conditions...") But really, my central concern was to get the pigs back into the garage before one of the 15 police cars that constantly patrol the streets of Northbrook slid by and my neighbor's pigs got busted.
Having never shepherded pigs, I assumed it would be a simple matter of tapping them on the butt—with a stick perhaps—and they would trot in the intended direction. Wrong. It was like trying to herd a pair of fire hydrants. The pigs were happy where they were.
By now, other neighbors were wandering over. One reached the wife on her cell phone, and she instructed us to dig into a tub of popcorn in the garage and use it to tempt the swine back into the garage. We did so, dropping a kernel a few inches in front of each pig. It would notice the kernel, eventually, lumber forward, snuffle up the morsel, and the process would repeat itself.
It took about 20 minutes—one of the pigs balked—but eventually we got the beasts back inside the garage. It was about the most excitement the street had seen in a long time, probably since a few of us men removed an enormous wasp nest the summer before.
The Murphys lost their case in Lake County court, and—all together now—are appealing the case to the Illinois Appellate Court.
"No one wants to live next door to pigs," Robert Murphy told the Tribune. But that is not true—I wanted the pigs to live next door, had no complaint about them except for their reclusiveness, and am willing to testify in a court of law that I was glad that they were there, am glad I met them in their thrilling bid for freedom, and will miss them, and their owners, now that they are gone.
I looked in vain for a pig joke that could be printed in a family newspaper.
Failing at that, I noticed this coyote joke by Billy Crystal, which, given the packs roaming the city, is also apt:
In L.A. we got coyotes in our garbage cans. Coyotes are just like my relatives -- they go out in pairs, they whine at night, and they go anywhere there's food.
—Originally published in the Sun-Times, July 29, 2007