It was an ugly scene down at the Hog Trough Grill and Feed last month, where the Hardyville Animal Welfare League (all three members of it) met to discuss how -- or if -- we could ever raise money to build a no-kill animal shelter.
"You did WHAT?" Dora-the-Yalie yelped, slopping her coffee onto the checkered tablecloth.
Mrs. Nat looked defensive and croaked, "Accepted a pig for our raffle."
"Complete with butchering," I reminded her. "And wrapping. And freezing."
"I thought it was sweet," Mrs. Nat sniffed.
Dora and I put our heads in our hands. While we were out of town for a few days, it seems Mrs. Nat had made a tasty - if tasteless - executive decision: Turn Babe into porkchops to save Lassie.
Somehow, the irony went right over dear old Mrs.Nat's head.
In a way, we couldn't blame her. Given the local economy, she was so thrilled to have a donation -- any donation -- that she accepted without thinking. Now Dora was having a vegetarian attack and I thanked my lucky stars I wasn't in charge of the PR campaign to persuade the world that this project was a great idea.
But then, whodathunk the world (that is, the world beyond Hardy County) would ever know?
In hardscrabble Hardyville, a chance at whole freezer full of meat for a buck is a real welcome thing. Mrs. Nat had already printed posters and started selling tickets. Locals were beginning to get interested. In our desperation to raise shelter bucks, even Dora reluctantly agreed that Hardyville would love a chance at a pig.
Miss Piggy was fated to be bacon, anyway. Might as well go in a good cause.
But then they found out what we were doing, here in backwards, carnivorous little Hardyville.
You know who they are. The Food Police. The Our-Way-Is-The-Only-Way Brigade. The Hole-In-The-Head Gang.
Don't ask me how they found out. Like most things, these days, you can probably blame the Internet. And blame Bob-the-Nerd for putting Hardyville Nooz online.
The first e-mails from the east-coast Big City were polite but real puzzlers:
Are you aware of the horrors of factory farming? Have you ever seen a pig being castrated without anesthesia? Do you know how much pollution Con-Agra alone generates every year? Millions of cruelly de-beaked chickens suffer for the sake of salmonella-poisoned eggs, and little baby calves are ...
We asked around, but no Hardyvillian could figure out what all that had to do with the pig Marty Harbibi's daughter hand-raised for 4H.
And then there was the other sort of letter:
U suk! Becuz U are such sadeists, I hope U all dye torchurously and get growd up 4 PIG FOOD!!!!! Ha ha it wood serve U rite!!!!! I hope I get to WACH!!!!!
Naturally, we were all touched by such persuasive argument. But the pig was fattening and the raffle tickets were slowly selling. On we went.
Shortly after that, the Fat Cops came stormtrooping in. THEY could have cared less what we killed or ate - as long as it didn't have any calories, cholesterol, lipids, sugar, carbohydrates, artificial flavoring, fillers, artificial coloring, transfats, partially hydroginated whosiwhatsises, or fun in it.
Bacon and honey ham, they assuredly would not tolerate.
We even heard from the U.S. Surgeon General who warned us -- no kidding! -- that "obesity" (which these days means being half a pound overweight -- which is not what it meant before the government got hold of the word) is ... get this now: TERRORISM. As Dave Barry would say, "I am not making this up!"
Terrorism! Right here in Hardyville! Thank heaven we've got our Hometown Security Department! Only question is: Who do we shoot? Who do we detain without trial? Betty Crocker? Aunt Jemima? Mrs. Butterworth? Julia Child? The Galloping Gourmet? Martha Stewart? (Oh, I forgot, they already got her.)
I got the job of responding to the Fat Folks. I sent them all my recipe for Decadent All-Fat All-Carb Some-Meat Potato Casserole.
And then, just as the animal rightsters and the fatcops were getting bored with Hardyville ... in thundered the Sherman tank ... the 800-pound canary ... the Terminator ... the John Ashcroft of the animal-rights crowd: PETA.
Really, Dave Barry, I am not making this up! Big old People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals came barging into little old Hardyville. Oh, not in person; I doubt they could hike over all that sagebrush and cactus on their flimsy guaranteed-non-leather, non-rainforest-killing hemp sandals.
But Nat Lyons, who serves as our only sorta-kinda veterinarian (not to mention serving as Mrs. Nat's husband) got a certified letter. It gave him 48 hours to confirm or deny the presence of an actual pig raffle in our community -- OR ELSE. Or else WHAT, they didn't say. Nat used PETA's letter for, well ... um, outdated Montgomery Ward catalogs were put to the same purpose 100 years ago.
Next PETA made nicey-nice -- and that really was kinda sweet. The offered to give us something to raffle in place of the pig. But can you say bait and switch? We didn't think a single ticket buyer would like us replacing a freezer full of Porky with a platter of organically grown kumquats or whatever PETA's idea of a good time might be.
Nat ignored that letter, too. After lighting a cigar with it. Indoors. In a public place. With children present.
So, since Hardyville was too far away from PETA-land for protestors to show up in bloody piggie suits or come liberate Piglet in the middle of the night and turn him loose to starve (which nobody else can figure is a good thing, but those animal-rights people seem to enjoy), PETA turned to their big guns: THE MEDIA.
They fired righteous, steaming, holy-crusading letters to every newspaper west of Denver and east of Dianne Feinstein Revealing the Horrible Truth that Some Unknown Person in the Infamous Town of Hardyville was actually going to Eat Pork!
PETA made just one leeeeetle, teeeeesy miscalculation, though. The Hardyvillian isn't exactly the kind of media PETA is used to manipulating. Heck, even The Big Newspaper Down in the Capital isn't THE MEDIA, PETA knows and loves.
Next thing you know, editors all over the territories were editing about "Meddling Outsiders" and "Fanatics Who Want to Destroy Our Way of Life." There was even a heartwarming profile or two about "Hardy Little Hardyville" being unfairly picked on by all those nasty Big City bullies.
Three minutes later (we counted) the Hardyville Animal Welfare League was selling pig-raffle tickets from Cheyenne to Billings and Pocatello to Salt Lake City. And people were sending $20 and not asking for a ticket at all. And some were donating quilts and fancy dog houses and blacksmithing services and cases of beer and whiskey and hunting rifles for future raffles. A rancher over in Wyoming Territory even offered a buffalo!
Without a doubt, Dora and I were unhappy campers when we first learned Mrs. Nat had accepted a piggie to raffle. Dora's still brooding a bit over her fat-free, meatless, organic baba ghanoush. And I still don't think it's quite right to sacrifice Wilbur for Rin Tin Tin. We won't raffle a pig again.
Next time, by a 2-to-1 vote, we've decided accept that buffalo. And never mind that it's a ranch-raised, grass-fed, non-hormoned, non-antibioticked, low-cholesterol, darned-near almost health-food buffalo. We're going to tell PETA it's an endangered wild Yellowstone park buffalo.
PETA: Y'all come back now, y'hear? You do and maybe we'll get to build that shelter sooner than we figured.
Based on a true story. Mostly.