Scared & Shaky
“There must be some way out of here,” said the joker to the thief. “There’s too much confusion, I can’t get no relief. Businessmen, they drink my wine, plowman dig my earth. None of them along the line know what any of it is worth.” ~Bob Dylan~
The darkness was moving and squealing—a madness that never stopped. All I wanted to do was escape, but there was no chance of that even being a remote possibility.
Piglets were everywhere—little beady-eyed, pink-skinned demon critters scrambling and shrieking. The fiends were in the throes of an excited agitation that was akin to rage, climbing on top of each other, and wiggling through and around my legs.
Outside in moonlit wonder the air was springtime fresh, but within the bleak confines of a glorified box it had to be chewed to be breathed. Dust, grime, and chunky particles of dirt and straw formed a suffocating blanket.
My lungs were in severe distress. Great big goobers of watery snot were dripping out of my nostrils. Thumbing the runners of crud away was just another feature of the herky-jerky freak show in which I had become one of the main attractions. Fortunately I was not alone in the writhing darkness. Being stuck inside a swirling sea of baby swine nipping and spitting at me would have been unbearable had I been all by myself. My friend Rick, who was a few years younger, pressed on and endured somewhere in the dingy murk. I say somewhere because we kept scooting around in crazed pirouettes without regard to our location—whether we were attempting to do the job or make a desperate getaway was wide open for interpretation.
Rivers of perspiration poured out of me—cold, clammy sweat that soaked my underclothes and trickled into my eyes. Half-blind and scared out of my wits, I had no idea what we were doing or why we were trapped in the back of a transport truck with squirming farm animals. Were we being taught a life-lesson? Was it punishment for crimes not yet committed? A kind of preventative purgatory to make sure we’d never stray from the paths of righteousness?
The questions came unaccompanied by reasons or explanations—regardless of the intensity of the asking no answers were ever forthcoming. We were cut loose from all that was near and dear to us to be tormented for such a time as this, though we could never really know the reasons. What we had was an endless manic reality—the groping, the unmitigated fear with undertones of panic, the high-pitched screeching noise, and thunderous commands barked by two bearded men.
“Grab them by the feet! Get them out here!”
“There, there, there! Grab that one!”
“There, there, there! Grab that one!”
The lunatic instruction was absolute absurdity touched by dementia while being embraced by foolishness. Which one? There were hundreds of the beastly varmints—thousands, even.
To succeed at this task required an expertise that Rick and I lacked, and if truth be told, had no desire to ever acquire. That either of us had a future herding, raising, or slaughtering livestock was an idea residing in the preposterous realm of the impossible.
There were no rests or coffee-breaks allowed—we were jammed up for the duration, and the piglets seemingly took delight in our predicament. The psychotic suckers were nasty—they snipped, slobbered, and snapped each time we lurched to clutch one. We persevered simply because of an ingrained sense of duty. The shouts reverberating around the black walls of the rectangular chamber came from a pair of adult youth leaders who supposedly were in complete control, and had understandings far beyond our meager wisdom.
Of course they were safe and secure standing in the farmyard. It’s easy, creeping close to child’s play, to provide wise counsel from the outside looking into a situation. In the heat of the action what’s most urgently needed is helping hands, but what we had on that terrible night were well-meaning bystanders giving orders for us to follow.
If this was an exercise in character building, Rick and I had about decided to be unrepentant sinners, thank you very much. Somewhere down the line we’d make a breakout, but for now we were in the midst of a living metaphor full of wailing and gnashing of teeth. I wanted to scream, though it would have been colored by spicy adjectives, so I bit down hard enough on my tongue to taste blood. After all, we were engaged in a church youth outing with a multitude of unstated expectations for appropriate decorum and use of language. Rick was the proud possessor of a sense of humor that managed to discover laughter in the strangest of places, but even his extraordinary gift came up short in this vastly bizarre circumstance. There was nothing funny about chasing a pack of oinkers around closed confines. The two of us were weirding out, to be sure. His eyes were circles of white gaped open and shining out of the murky shroud. A silent WHAT THE FRIG? lashed at me from his corkscrewed expression.
Me being older, I suppose he figured I had a better grasp on what was happening or harbored some special insights on how best to handle the baby porkers. If so, he was sadly mistaken. I was played out, with zero enlightenment to be offered. The closest I’d been to these creatures before this was as a rack of barbecued pigsicles on a cardboard plate at the Welland Fair. I suspect his experience with swine was about the same. It mattered not—we stuck with the grim assignment until every stinking piglet was penned up in the barn.
Afterwards, when we were showered and shined, we even squeezed some strained smiles. While munching on cookies and drinking hot chocolate, those who’d merely been spectators related their version of our travails, which produced jocular hilarity, but Rick and I understood that the memory would linger in us even as it was forgotten by others.
“No reason to get excited,” the thief, he kindly spoke. “There are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke. But you and I, we’ve been through that, and this is not our fate, so let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late.” ~Bob Dylan~
All of the above is true—there’s not a minutia of embellishment.
It occurred far away in a whole other century when innocence was something to be treasured—it was before technology became both the boom and bane of our existence. It was a time of political intrigue and turmoil—Pierre Trudeau was the boss-man in Canada, while Richard Nixon hung onto power by the slimmest of threads in Washington.
In that long ago gloom, Rick and I were ill-equipped, ill-prepared, and ill-used, yet despite angst, misgivings and outright despair, when thrust into repulsive conditions we demonstrated determined toughness. We could’ve given the latent responsibility drilled into us the old heave-ho, but instead, provided a glimpse of the men we would become.
We were just a couple teenagers who’d grown up on opposite ends of a legendary territory and shared a common grit because there’s something in the water in Wainfleet Township. And the cliché is exactly right—the boy can be taken out of Wainfleet, but quilted remnants of Wainfleet stay embroidered in the boy.
All these years later, we’ve compared notes to report that elements of the episode can come out of nowhere to haunt us. Sometimes in the wee-hours when the deep shadows have nothing to do with the sun going down, the relentless squeals moving in the darkness are the soundtrack of apocalyptic nightmares.
And so the story goes.