Ham-let

It’s almost seven and the grandstand’s filling up fast. I’ve never been on this side of the fence, looking up at the crowd. Joe is next to me, elbowing Brad and saying something about Bethany that makes my face burn. I’d never say it myself, but she does look good in those short shorts.

The national anthem’s over. I’ve stood, hand over my heart, mind elsewhere. Is that wrong?

And now the names. It’s a Swine Life. Put a Pork in It. Bacon It Up as We Go. Each team stands, waves, cheers, draws eyes to itself. Three Men and a Piggie. I stand, waving weakly. Skinny, short–I’m the runt, so to speak. I suggested the name. I like being small, and I thought it was funny at the time. This whole thing sounded like a good idea at the time.

Joe, Brad, Dillon, and I are friends, somehow, not ironic friends, but real friends. I don’t really play sports and they don’t care to read anything longer than a tweet, but it doesn’t really matter.

This was Brad’s idea. 4-H Fair. Hog wrestling. Let’s get a team together. It’ll be fun.

In hindsight, he probably just wanted to watch farm girls get muddy.

The horn sounds for the first match. A fenced-in circle, maybe a foot of muddy water, and a pig. In the center, a barrel. Goal: catch the pig and lay it on top of the barrel. You have 30 seconds. Go!

photo credit: Craig Walkowicz via photopin cc

photo credit: Craig Walkowicz via photopin cc

I quickly realize this is just as easy as it sound–which isn’t easy at all. The pig slips out of hands, between legs, wiggles and contorts out of arms. Ahab had his whale, and Javert had his 24601. This was to be my pig.

It’s like life, this contest, the scramble to hold on to your dreams, to grasp time as it passes too quickly, to seize what really matters among the distractions of life, to–

Joe burst out in his infectious laugh as a middle school girl lands face first in the mud. I’m back on the hard metal bleachers, surrounded by cheers and the squeal of the desperate hog.

Team after team is sent in. The youngest first. Some wrangle the pig to the barrel; most do not. In life, it’s like that. The strong don’t always win. The smart don’t always rule. Sometimes, it’s just chance and luck….

I press my palms against my eyes and try to look around, to absorb the atmosphere. The crowd is laughing, cheering, eating and drinking, watching and not watching. The contestants lean over to one another, mill about, point and laugh as someone’s shoe comes off in the mud. There’s a cool breeze after the earlier rain. Groups of soaked, muddy pig-wrestlers trudge happily to get washed off.

We’re called to the hole, two teams in front of us. This is where I prove I’m a man, prove I belong in this brotherhood, shake off my intellectualism and seize life with Hemingwayan vigor. This is my coming of age.

“Do we have a plan?” I ask.

“Catch that pig,” Dillon says.

As we wait for the horn, the pig sniffs the ground, unaware of our intent. We’re poised, ready. The horn sounds. I trample into the water and churned mud. Joe reaches the pig first. It bolts away along the fence in my direction. I dive for it, grab it, slide off. My head drops into the water. Blinking, I stand, looking for it. Brad hangs onto a back leg. I try to grab the front, straddle the pig, grasp desperately as it thrashes away beneath me. Water again, the hooves pounding close to my face. Up on my feet, I fling out my arms and just miss it. Dillon and Joe have it cornered. I rush to help somehow. All four of us have our hands on it. It charges forward. We lose our grip, find new handholds, stumble, lift–the pig writhes and we fall.

The horn blows. I stand, dazed.

As we head to wash off, Joe says, “That was awesome.”

“We’ll get him next time,” Brad says.

“We almost had it,” Dillon says, the most competitive of us.

“Yeah,” I say. Because wrestling the pig wasn’t some symbol for life or destiny or manhood. No, it was something much more mysterious for a brainiac like me: sometimes wrestling a pig is just, well, wrestling a pig.

I wonder if my English teacher knows that?

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