For National Pig Day: On Toby and Other Sapient Porkers (by Way of Ricky Jay)

The fact that it is National Pig Day called to mind the fact that I haven’t properly memorialized the late Ricky Jay, who passed away back in November. His passing happened so suddenly and unexpectedly that on the fly I merely linked to my previous posts on him here and here by way of tribute. But Jay speaks to this day! Apart from fictional pigs like Arnold and Babe, perhaps the most famous of this domesticated beast is Toby, who, along with several other of his porcine brethren, is profiled in the first chapter of Jay’s landmark book Learned Pigs and Fireproof Women, an enormous influence on this correspondent. By way of appreciation, I share this delicious passage:

“Pigs. in fact, are intelligent and easily trainable. The biggest problem, however, is their size. At six months of age, many pigs weigh three hundred pounds….Often the animals just get too big to perform their acts. Such was the case with Fred Leslie, whose ‘Porcine Circus’ worked the Lemen Brothers Show around the turn of the century. When his star pigs grew too large to to perform their acrobatics gracefully he purchased a new group of shoats to take their place. The newcomers watched the old troupers and were trained to do the act. When the youngsters were ready to perform, Leslie sold the fattened veterans to a farmer whose land bordered the circus lot. That evening, as the music for the show began, the old-timers recognized their cue and, using their ladder-scaling prowess, climbed over the farmer’s fence and made their way into the circus tent in time for their act to begin. The image of them nudging the rookie pigs out of carts, away from seesaws, and off ladders in an attempt to do their old routine is a testament to the finest traditions of show business.”

What a great piece of writing — and a perfect illustration of Jay’s droll sense of humor. You should read the whole thing! Get Learned Pigs and Firepoof Women here.