Joyland

Vancouver |

At The Rodeo, At The Fair

by Cole Nowicki

edited by Carleigh Baker

The Old Man In The Cowboy Hat made the children put on little pig snouts and aprons that had pink plastic nipples glued all over them. The nipples were very evenly spaced. Unrealistically so.

Those aren’t accurate, I said to the couple beside me, gesturing to the children and their pig nipples. They didn’t respond. They didn’t care about authenticity. In front of us was a miniature racecourse cordoned off by two-foot high wrought iron fencing. The race lane weaved and snaked in a lopsided spiral. A bridge spanned part of the track, at the end of which was a slide that lead into the finish line—a mud pit. All around the race area straw had been trampled down and metal bleachers on the edges of the course were packed with blue jean wearing butts. This was a piglet race.

The Old Man In The Cowboy Hat made the Human Pig Children practice their squeals. The strap on one of the children’s snouts had snapped so he just held it in his hand, demoralized, as his family laughed at him from the bleachers.

You ain’t squealing right! Bad piggy! His dad guffawed through a mouthful of corndog.

Each Human Pig Child was a mascot, representing an actual racing piglet that their respective portions of the audience had been assigned to root for. The Old Man In The Cowboy Hat stroked and tugged on the hair of one of the Human Pig Children in a way that momentarily quieted the audience, before he mumbled a joke about pigtails that brought everyone but the girl whose hair he’d pulled back from the edge of concern. She was the mascot for team one: Son of Ham. The Old Man In The Cowboy Hat was naming the teams on the fly and you could see his brain rattling through various rhyme schemes.

The second team was represented by a Human Pig Child who really seemed to relish the position. The Old Man In The Cowboy Hat had to ask him to stop his squealing so he could anoint his team for the crowd to hear: Bacon a Murderer. The portion of the audience that had been dubbed Bacon a Murderer cheered.

Netflix fucking rules! somebody said.

Y’all here, The Old Man In The Cowboy Hat swept his hand over a section of sweaty people, are the Lindbergh Baby Back Ribs. The older folks in the crowd gasped and a few teenagers looked up from their phones, confused, as The Old Man In The Cowboy Hat quickly moved on to the last smattering of people on the bleachers. Some, like me, were standing off to the side.

Team four, you’re—

The couple beside me cringed in anticipation. I tried to guess which serial killer or awful murderous event The Old Man In The Cowboy Hat was going to rhyme with what cut of pig meat.

—Pork and Mindy! He yelled. My team cheered, relieved.

A little beyond the racecourse was a large, windowless crate where the piglets were held. The crate was connected to the course by four, small metal gates, the type that slide straight up to open, like the kind you see in touching Youtube videos of rehabilitated lions being released back into the wild. The Old Man In The Cowboy Hat commanded the Human Pig Children to squeal which made the actual pig children squeal. The sound bruised the heart. I could see flashes of pink flesh darting past the gates.

Are we gonna race ‘em or what? a woman from the Lindbergh Baby Back Ribs yelled. The Old Man In The Cowboy Hat mumbled something into his chest and waved his hand at a couple of his helpers, who entered the crate and flushed the piglets towards the gates. Once they were in their positions, one piglet per gate, a second gate closed behind them. The piglets squealed and squealed. The Human Pig Child mascot for Son of Ham started to cry.

They don’t like this. I don’t like this. Please let them go! She tore off her nipple apron and threw it into the crowd. A young man from Bacon a Murderer jumped up, snatched it out of the air, put it on, and sat back down.

Little lady, they like it just fine, see? The Old Man In The Cowboy Hat took a carrot from his pocket and fed it to Pork and Mindy. The girl had already run off, her parents in pursuit.

Well, guess we should listen to her then. Let ‘em go boys! The Old Man In The Cowboy Hat said, smacking the side of the crate. At that the gates lifted and the pigs exploded out and careened down the track. The crowd roared chants of Bacon-Bacon-Bacon, Ham-Ham-Ham and Pork-Pork-Pork into the hot afternoon air as the piglets ran and ran and ran. No one from the Lindbergh Baby Back Ribs cheered. Their snout-less mascot had sat down long ago, not concerned with hyping up his team. Bacon a Murderer's’ Human Pig Child squealed louder than the actual piglets. He jumped in circles, squeezing the nipples on his apron. Our team’s mascot was beside me, smoking a cigarette.

This is all pretty fucked up, huh, the smoking Human Pig Child said. I wanted to know who would give this kid, who couldn’t have been much older than ten and covered in nipples, a cig. The Human Pig Child caught me staring and asked if I wanted a drag.

Smoked ham, the couple beside me whispered to each other and giggled.

The crowd started to boo. The piglets hadn’t made it that far before stopping, choosing to smell each other and make eyes at the audience instead of booking it. The Old Man In The Cowboy Hat had taken off said hat and was fanning his big greasy face with it.

Git on now. Git! He yelled. The piglets squealed and kicked up straw but stayed put. Bacon a Murderer’s Human Pig Child squealed encouragingly and the piglets turned the other way. I didn’t blame them for not running. This was literally their moment in the sun. They’d been trapped in the crate all afternoon and were probably on a short path to the frying pan anyways—better make the most of it. One of the pigs turned in a slow circle, following a big green balloon in the shape of the Monster Energy Drink logo as it floated above the crowd. Then someone threw a corndog onto the course and the piglets dived on it, devouring the mystery meat, stick and all.

This was all pretty depressing so I went and got a snow cone. The kid doused it in blue syrup. None of the liquid stayed on the shaved ice, it pooled into the bottom, soaking through the paper cone and gluing my fingers together. A breeze brought one of the plastic pig snouts to my feet. I kicked it and it rolled into the fairgrounds, eventually getting stepped on, crunching into little pieces on the hot asphalt.