Rest In Peace, Pigman

We called him the Pigman because we heard from someone who worked at our dentist’s office who heard it from someone else that he used to raise pigs. That was her name for him, and it fit.

The pigman’s house was a major Savoy landmark, to the extent that Savoy has landmarks: a gloriously filthy pile of rotting vehicles, barrels and tarps dotted here and there in ramshackle stacks, sometimes a cow munching contentedly at the grass growing through an abandoned satellite dish — all of this surrounding a tiny one-room shack, half the size of the overturned RV next to it that had been bisected and repurposed into a chicken coop. In the summer he’d leave the door open and you could see the single bare lightbulb hanging from the middle of the ceiling. Sometimes he’d sit on his front steps and watch the traffic, with his enormous white beard not coming close to covering his even more enormous round belly. He looked like a filthy off-season Santa Claus.

A lunatic, obviously. But a lunatic with style.

I loved that he was there; it always made me obscurely happy to slow down as I drove by, craning my neck to see the latest addition to the menagerie or the newest piece of scrap metal. A visible reminder that, whatever else you can say about Savoy, at least it isn’t the kind of place where you’re required to paint your house in one of the five community-covenant-approved colors, or where drying a towel on your balcony invites the ire of the neighborhood council. A friend of ours visiting from Africa announced when he first saw the place — only half-joking — “it looks like a yard in Ghana!” I liked that. A little slice of imaginary Ghana sure beats American Suburbia.

Which isn’t to say that I wasn’t a little bit scared of the pigman, of course. I never dared get close enough to take a picture of the place, risking conversation or confrontation with the guy. I never found out his real name (obviously) or what his story was, how he came to be perched in his little shack, or where (and why) he kept acquiring his seemingly endless supply of junk. And I know my romanticized view of him — the extreme individualist, the ultimate New Englander — is just that, a fantasy. His animals weren’t healthy, he probably wasn’t either. It was probably damn cold and uncomfortable in that shack in February.

About a month ago, there were major changes at the Pigman’s house: the front door was suddenly boarded up, and a CONDEMNED sign nailed to it. A new(ish) and more-or-less intact trailer was parked in front. Well, okay: the place always did look like it was about to fall down; I always wondered how he survived the winters in there, anyway — so they’ve condemned his house, but he’s just going to stick it out in the trailer. Good for him.

And then the trailer was gone. And then there was a backhoe in its place. And very shortly the Pigman’s land looked like this photo — which really isn’t much different from what it looked like before, except that most of the larger vehicle carcasses are gone, and the pile of wood there is what used to be his house. It all happened very suddenly.

A couple of days ago, I found out what had happened. I picked up a hitchhiker between Adams and Savoy — one of those dusty old men you often see hitchhiking around here, the hardcore New Englanders with no car and no desire to move close in to town. So they walk, and thumb rides from any car that looks local. Lately my Jeep has gotten rusty enough that it qualifies.

This guy was worth a story or two in himself. He had one of those Russian-looking fur hats on, and for some reason had compensated for the fact that he had no eyebrows by penciling in new ones with, apparently, a chunk of coal. “It usually takes me about three hours to get in from town.” (Meaning from Adams to Savoy — about a ten minute drive, but up a very steep hill. I doubt I could walk it at all, in the best of circumstances; he was doing it in below-freezing weather.) “Always say, if I don’t get a ride, at least I’m getting the exercise.”

And as we came up the hill towards the Pigman’s house, he told me what happened. The town condemned the house for health violations, locked him out, and it killed him. Just like that.

It all happened very suddenly.

My hitchhiker was unsympathetic. That’s a good piece of land, he said; the guy had thirty-five acres of road front. And it was an eyesore. Filthy. You should have seen what those dogs were doing in the house, terrible, and he was just covering it over with newspaper. Sick. He hoped they’d clean the place up, put in some new housing. Maybe a development.

But then he saw that I wasn’t nodding in agreement, that I looked kind of sad, and he softened. “Well,” he said, “I guess the best you could say is that he was an individualist.” And then we reached my road, and we nodded, and he got out of the car.

So that’s the story of the Pigman. I still don’t know his name, and probably never will. But I can’t think of a more melancholy or appropriate marker for him than that boot on that post. I hope the town takes their time cleaning up those thirty-five good acres.







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