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From The Vault Of Art Shay: Pigs On The Wing

By Art Shay in News on Mar 27, 2013 6:00PM

(Legendary Chicago-based photographer Art Shay has taken photos of kings, queens, celebrities and the common man in a 60-year career. This week, Art reflects on the other white meat.)

The two city boys— let's call them Hal and Ernie — who raised prize-winning pigs and placed high several years in national competitions were a musician and a sporting goods salesman. They sometimes played gigs at the old Sherman House and often ate with the pigs, squatting down on creaky knees hog-wise and brought them bales of sumptuous garbage from their West Side neighborhood.

Pigs are as sociable as many teenagers and more fun to be around. The brothers brought them mostly slop from Balkan-owned bakeries and other generous generators of nourishing day-old garbage, flattered at being asked to contribute. Keeping straight faces, the nationally rated hog judges “hogged” the spotlight briefly, but assessed the pigs on health and conformation, as do any other animal judges. I think in their best year (sometime in the 70s) they placed third with a bevy of Spotted Polands. [An aside: Once there were more Spotted Poles along lower Milwaukee Avenue than in all of Warsaw. You could sometimes listen in on their (vodka) spirited arguments at the Chekhov Theater's intermissions.]

The pig owners played guitar and drums for their charges and read them Proust in the original pirated Polish, which they claimed gave the animals a rhythmic sense that appealed to judges who had expected the contestants to go hog wild.

I learned that hogs enjoyed sloth but liked to sleep on clean turf. The owners avoided some problems by encouraging Jewish donors of garbage to hold back kosher chicken fricassee, matzoh ball and veal garbage. Left on their own, hogs are non-sectarian and indiscriminately omnivorous. Their musical tastes are equally broad: One of the owners introduced a song in his Sherman Hotel act that had at least one recondite line.

"Hogs that eat garbage neat, are themselves excellent to eat."

All this was before Miss Piggy came into vogue. Shoat that she is surely would have been the hogs' Madonna or Taylor Swift, and the litter would have been on Twitter. Pigs are also very kind, often at the cost of their lives: Two of them donated aortal heart valves to me 18 years apart, proving even without aortic valves they have a heart with a built-in sharing gene.

When I die I just may leave my current pig's valve back to some deserving swine, turnabout being fair play in the great big sty in the sky.

If you can't wait until this time every Wednesday to get your Art Shay fix, please check out the photographer's blog, which is updated regularly. Art Shay's book, Chicago's Nelson Algren, is also available at Amazon.