Biff America column: Hamming it up: A lesson in empathy
September 2, 2016
Unlike the rest of the media contestants of the Celebrity Pig Stripping event at the Front Range Rodeo, Dashing Dave Dowd and I came not to participate, but to win. This was evident by our outfits. While the other DJs, newsmen, weathermen and women dressed for fashion, Dave and I came outfitted to pig strip. We sported old sweat suits and running shoes, and I opted for a bike helmet.
We didn't wish to win for bragging rights but, rather, for cash. Dave and I worked at a Denver radio station, and ours and all of the other stations put up $100 each to go to the winning team. There might have been 10 teams, so along with a trophy, we stood to make about $500 each.
This was many years ago. I'm not sure if "de-panting" pork is even legal now, but back then, it was a staple at small-time rodeos. The rules are as follows: Several teams of two enter the arena with an equal number of swine wearing underwear. The goal is to grab a pig and take off the undies, put the undies on one person of your team and run to the end of the arena and ring a bell. The first team who rings the bell wins. (Don't look for it in the Olympics any time soon.)
Dashing Dave Dowd was a perfect partner for me. He was a sports reporter for a sister station, had a background as a college lineman and a history of concussions. He was large, younger than I and short on common sense.
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While waiting for the gate to the open to the rodeo grounds, we sized up our competition. It was obvious many didn't know what they were in for; one weekend traffic reporter was actually wearing flip-flops and a sundress.
I was catching up with some of the other contestants whom I'd gotten to know over the years when the gate flew open. Dave issued a war cry as he sprinted into the arena.
Our plan was a simple one: Dave would grab the nearest pig and hold it still while I took off the briefs, put them on myself and then sprint to glory. Obviously, no other teams needed the money as much as we did.
It wasn't even close. Dave had herded a cluster of pork against the far wall before the rest of the pack was even a quarter of the way across the grounds. I jogged about 20 feet behind him. For a large man, my partner was still very fast, and he was actually able to sweep up two pigs into his huge arms. One was a fighter, so he let it go. Once Dave had the swine in a bear hug, it was fairly easy for me to remove the pig's briefs.
Coincidentally, both pig and I wore the same size undies. I quickly put them on and ran to the bell before the other teams even had approached their prey. Dave and I picked up our cash and trophy and headed out to the parking lot to change into clean clothing.
In the Pig's Place
I've told the story of my hog-stripping heroics for a couple of decades now. Lately, though, I have come to realize that I never once considered the pig's feelings.
It is easy to reflect back in humor, but I bet that pig was terrified. I can only imagine the fear as all 240 pounds of Dashing Dave Dowd tackled and restrained it while some cackling albino (that would be me) ripped off its undies. And I have to admit this pig empathy, on my part, is a relatively new feeling for me.
Not until recently had I thought to put myself in the pig's place; I think this is a factor of age. Along with losing foot speed, strength and seeing a proliferation of those brown spots that collect on your chest, I think age brings empathy. Sometimes when I look back on how I have treated pigs, humans and myself, I have regrets. Though it has been said, "We need to teach empathy as we do literacy," I'm not sure empathy can be learned but, rather, it is acquired over time.
I would like to think I'm not alone when I look back and wished I had behaved differently toward both pigs and people. But of course, it is harder to undo your mistakes than to learn from them. Personally, I guess the best I can do is to try to be more empathetic going forward, try to put myself in others' position and, of course, eat less bacon.
Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of Biff America, can be read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Biff's new book, "Mind, Body, Soul," is available at local shops and bookstores or shop.holpublications.com.