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One Terrific Pig

How about “Pig Supreme?” asked one of the lambs. “No good,” said Charlotte. “It sounds like a rich dessert.” — E. B. White

When my friend Sara announced the impending arrival of her new pet — a miniature painted pot-bellied piglet that would grow to be the size of a large cat — I became dizzy. She might as well have told me that a unicorn, with its glittery horn and the power to grant wishes, was munching on a patch of grass in her backyard. I was geeky with anticipation to see the little porker.

I received the text on a Monday night. Sara and her boyfriend Hanis had returned from a day at the Del Mar Fair and invited me to pop over to meet the newest addition to their clan (they already had the “incredibly growing” desert tortoise and Doogers the rambunctious spaniel). I’d seen tusky warthogs and pygmy pigs at the zoo, but always from a distance on the other side of a barrier. This would be my first time going nose to snout with a pig.

I was there before they’d finished unloading the car. Dropping my tact along with my purse on a chair, I walked right past Sara to Hanis, who was holding the piglet in his arm like a football. I hadn’t expected it to be so tiny. He was lighter than my multiple-rep dumbbells and not nearly as long. “He’s growing fast,” Sara said from behind me, “but even at his largest, he won’t be more than 15 to 25 pounds. He was the runt of his litter, just like Wilbur.”

Hanis set the runt on the grass. Both a chef and farmer, Hanis raises pigs (the kind for eating) on a shared farm in Alpine. Though this little piggy will not be going to market, Hanis named him Carnitas.

The pint-sized hog waddled around straight-legged on his hooves, looking ballerina-like on his tippy-toes. His tail — also straight — wagged like a dog’s, and his rotund tummy was wider than the rest of his body; he grunted as he poked at the soil with his snout, his oinking a testimony to his serenity.

“Can I hold him?” I asked. Sara nodded, and I smiled like a junkie about to land a job as a pharmacist. I reached down and put my hand around his softball of a belly. A piercing squeal filled the air — a desperate, miserable cry more alarming than a hungry infant’s — while itty-bitty piggy legs flailed about. I withdrew my hand and looked to Sara for help.

“He does that when you just grab him,” she said.

“You think?” I said. Sara laughed off my sarcasm and demonstrated how tapping the pig’s bottom would encourage him to bound into my arms. I sat beside him, touched his bum, and Carnitas trotted onto my leg and into my arms. He buried his snout in my elbow, rooting for comfort, driving his nose into my flesh with the perseverance of Sisyphus. It felt as if someone were poking me with an index finger. Hard.

“He did that to me for over ten minutes last night,” said Hanis. “Actually gave me a bruise.”

But I didn’t mind. It was a bearable pain. I was willing to put up with a whole hell of a lot for the opportunity to cradle the exotic creature. Something about him burrowing into my arm kindled in me a latent need to nurture.

I paused from stroking the animal’s back and looked up after Sara mentioned something about Gay Pride 2010. It wasn’t mere talk of the upcoming festivities that had tugged my attention away from the piglet. “Did I hear you say you’re going to be in the parade?” I asked. “And Hanis is going to be working? Does that mean you need someone to watch Carnitas?” It was at that moment — as I envisioned those peewee pig hooves traipsing around on my hardwood floors — that I realized just how boar-besotted I was.

I don’t baby-sit, I don’t dog-sit, I don’t water plants. I don’t feel the urge to volunteer myself to assume other people’s chosen responsibilities. On the occasions that I’ve agreed to look after my niephlings or scoop a friend’s Kitty Litter, it was because I was beseeched as a last, desperate resort. But pig-sitting, now that was different.

“Are you sure David would be okay with him in your house?” Sara asked. “I won’t be able to come pick him up right away; it might take us a while to get out of there.”

“He’ll be fine,” I said. “Won’t you?” I held a wild gaze on David, scaring him into the nod he finally provided. “See? No problem,” I said.

“Well, I just want to make sure,” Sara said. “I know how you guys are. You don’t even allow kids in your place.”

“Well, yeah, not until they’re old enough to hold a conversation or operate a corkscrew,” I said. “Toddlers are like ferrets, they get their little hands into everything. And babies are boring. They just sit there until they scream bloody murder because they need to be filled or emptied.”

“But I thought you didn’t let animals up either,” said Hanis.

“Well, no, not historically,” I said. “Dogs can be destructive.” I looked down at the strange bundle in my arms. “But this little guy, he’s harmless. And entertaining. I’ll take him to the parade, and then he can kick it at our place until you’re ready for him.”

The morning I collected Carnitas, I walked away with two armfuls of Hanis-prepared care packages comprising food, treats, water, spray-on sunscreen, a quilted carrier, and Carnitas’s bed. Hanis appeared ever the fretful father as he watched us leave. I set the pig in his small bed on my passenger seat and tweeted a few photos, my face aching from my huge grin.

After torturing the poor pig with spray-on sunscreen (his sad squeals of protest still haunt me) and then giggling for a while as he scuttled about, failing to find traction on our polished granite counter, I packed him into the carrier and headed out the door with David and my father.

The street was packed. Dad parked his beach chair (with its attachable solar-reflective umbrella) in a searing shadeless spot on the grass between the sidewalk and the asphalt. David and I continued on, trekking through the throngs until we found respite on a grassy knoll adjacent to Ono Sushi, where palm fronds offered protection from the sun and occasional puffs of cool air carried over from the restaurant. But our chief reason for settling there was the raised planter against the wall behind the grass. The planter was narrow and contained plenty of mulch for a curious snout.

“Can you see from down there?” I asked David. He was seated on the edge of the planter, scratching Carnitas’s belly. The pig was stretched out against David’s leg, enjoying the massage.

“It’s okay,” said David, keeping his eyes on the content piglet. “I’m good right here.”

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