April 4, 2015

THE TIME MACHINE (1960) and the Unfortunate Pig

Starring Rod Taylor, Alan Young, Yvette Mimieux, Sabastian Cabot, Whit Bissell. Directed by George Pal. (1960, 103 min).

Essay by D.M. ANDERSON
George Wells (Rod Taylor) may have invented a time machine, but he sure as hell doesn’t know what to do with such awesome power at his disposal. Being yet-another ‘genius’ more concerned with intellectual enlightenment than personal gain, he decides to travel 800,000 years into the future to witness what humankind has accomplished. What he finds instead is a race of dumb blondes, the Eloi, who are collectively less self-aware than a classroom of 7th graders, along with another batch of cannibalistic underground dwellers (Morlocks) sporting more manboobs than the drunken audience at a David Allan Coe concert (perhaps from chowing down on all those Eloi).

Sure, in The Time Machine, Wells hooks up with Weena (17-year-old Yvette Mimieux, nearly 15 years younger than Taylor...yeech). But rather than getting his jollies in paradise, he returns to his own time, disillusioned that humankind is only going to get dumber (foreshadowing Mike Judge's Idiocracy?). Yet Wells never uses his time machine to alter future events so we don’t end up on the Morlocks' buffet table. In fact, he does a complete about-face and goes back to the same dumbass future, likely to commence bumping-uglies with Weena.

Now that I think about it, I guess ol’ George knows exactly what to do with a time machine, because he’s likely in hog heaven right now (not-to-mention the smartest man on Earth).

That’s the thing about time travel. Ultimately, we’d all probably use it for personal gain. Think about it…what would you do with a time machine at your disposal? Would you truly be curious about the future, would you kill a tyrant like Hitler to prevent attempted genocide, or would you manipulate the past for your own benefit?

I’m honest enough to admit I’d use a time machine for selfish reasons, such as:
  • 1) Traveling back a week with the latest Powerball numbers.
  • 2) Talking my 18-year-old self out of getting married right after graduating high school.
  • 3)  Slapping some sense into Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll before calling-in that bone-headed final play in Super Bowl XLIX which lost them the game.
But you know what? I’m probably self-centered enough to use such a machine to alter even menial events which have no impact on anyone else, just to relieve myself of the gnawing guilt I still feel.

For example, I met a pig today.

Not on purpose. It was one of those weird little incidents that, while not necessarily life-changing, you never forget simply because you wonder how things would have turned out if you’d have done just one thing differently.

While I was at work (I'm a middle school teacher), my wife called to say she locked herself out of the house and needed me to come home and let her in. It was good timing, really, because my lunch period had just started. I had roughly forty minutes to get home, unlock the house and get back before my next class. I was a little miffed having to skip lunch to bail her out, but that subsided when I remembered it was chicken nugget day in the cafeteria (their nuggets have the same taste and consistency as a plate of Hacky-Sacks).

I made it home in about 15 minutes. The driveway gate was open when I pulled in. We’re usually pretty good at keeping it closed, since our dog, Murphy, isn’t the brightest crayon in the box. But after climbing from my car, I noticed Murphy was actually trapped in the house, barking at me through the living room window (his eyesight ain’t so great either). I had expected my wife to be sitting on the porch with a sheepish grin on her face, but she wasn’t.

Then I heard the thump-thump-thump of one of her disco CDs and knew she was in the garage on the treadmill to pass the time. I headed toward the back of the house. And that’s when I saw it…a pig. Not a very big one, about the size of our dog, pushing his snout through some weeds. I immediately froze in stunned disbelief.

Planet of Manboobs
Granted, it wasn't like I just spotted a giant squid flopping around in my yard. But I live in Portland, Oregon, not exactly Times Square, but not Green Acres, either. My house sits on a busy urban street just a few blocks away from a 7-Eleven, three gas stations, a wrecking yard and a strip club. How in the hell did a pig end up here? Until now, the most exotic animals to invade my property were occasional frogs climbing the side of the house and two racoons humping atop my storage shed one night. I guess there was also the time my neighbors decided to fill their pond with crawdads. One of the critters apparently did not like the new living arrangements and kept crossing the property onto our driveway. I returned it to them twice before my neighbors finally realized crawdads didn’t make great pets.

But this was a pig, and not one of those cute, fuzzy potbelly ones hipsters adopt as pets. This was a pig pig, fat and pink, the kind most of us only come in contact with only after they’ve become pork chops. Okay, maybe he was a little cute, like the one in Babe. But still, he was wet, muddy and not something I'd want sitting in my lap.

I stared dumbfounded, the reality of a farm animal on my property not really registering for a second.

“Honey?” I called to my wife, which startled the critter from his burrowing to look up at me. “There’s a pig in our yard!”

She couldn't hear me over the sounds of ABBA, but the pig heard all he needed to before breaking into a sprint, whizzing past me as fast as his stubby little legs could carry him. He snorted as he went by, obviously terrified, toes clicking on the driveway as he scurried out the open gate. I didn't realize they could run so fast.

“Hey, wait!” I yelled, feeling immediately stupid, as if the beastie would suddenly stop, rear his head and reply, “What is it, Dave?” Hell, my own dog doesn’t come to me when I call him.

Still, I  panicked and chased after him. We live on a busy road, and I worried he might run out into traffic. He may not have been a beloved pet, but that didn’t mean I wanted to see him get pancaked by an SUV. By the time I reached the end of the driveway, he was nowhere to be seen. I was a bit relieved at the time. At least he didn’t run out into the road. He must have disappeared into the neighbor’s bushes or something.

Finished on the treadmill, my wife came out of the garage. I asked her if she had seen the pig in our yard. She looked at me like I just had a six-pack for lunch.

“I swear to god,” I claimed. “There was a pig  snooting around in the weeds. I hope he stays off the road.”

I could tell my wife thought I was making this up…or worse, hallucinating. In fact, she only half-jokingly suggested that very thing.

Anyway, after checking the time, I forgot about the pig. I had to get back to work fast to be in time for my next class. Kids are allowed a few mulligans when it comes to tardies, but teachers aren’t.

Back at school, I told the students in my next class about my pig encounter. None seemed too impressed. Granted, seeing a pig may not be as awe-inspiring as a UFO landing in your yard, but it isn’t like the streets of Portland are teaming with swine. The only comment I got back was from one girl, who asked, “Was it fat?” Yeah, like the pig’s size was the missing detail to make my lunchtime account a better story.

After the school day ended, I got home in time to join my wife in waiting for my daughter’s bus.

On the way back from the bus stop, there was the little pig lying on the side of the road about thirty feet beyond our driveway…


Fortunately, my little daughter had a friend she’d invited home for a play date, and in their quest to get home and start dressing Barbies, they didn’t notice him. I’m glad because she only recently informed us she would no longer eat pork because pigs are cute animals.* Not only that, she doesn’t handle death too well. She cried for two hours when a fifty-cent snail in her fish’s bowl died.

After the girls had vanished into the house my wife and I ventured over to the dead pig, which was definitely nailed by a car. I guess he wandered out into the road after all.

“See?” I victoriously exclaimed to my wife. “I told you I wasn’t making this up.”

But inside, I was sad. No, I don’t get upset every time I spot roadkill. In fact, part of me does a silent cheer whenever I see the bloodied carcass of a raccoon that meets its end with a car bumper. Raccoons may be cute, but they're nasty, mean animals (and one beat the shit out of my cat once, which resulted in a $500 in veterinary bill).

But a pig? In the city? I don't know how he got there, but the little critter was obviously out of his element and probably scared to death. And as I looked down at his carcass (not a bloody, gory mess…just lying there on the sidewalk with his little black eyes still open, which actually made it worse), I started to wonder if I could have prevented this. What if I had closed the gate when I got home to let my wife in? What if I had tried to catch the little pig as he tried to flee my driveway?

I tried to reason it through in order to feel better…he wasn’t my pig and I sure as hell didn't have the space or resources to take care of one, even temporarily, while I scouted the neighborhood to find its owner. My wife suggested going to Zenger Farm, a nearby business which isn’t so-much an actual farm as a tiny agricultural Mecca where urbanites congregate and buy pumpkins and wine. Maybe one of Zenger’s animals escaped. So I checked. But they had no real livestock, just some chickens and bunnies for school kids to fawn over during field trips (just what purpose do bunnies actually serve on a farm, anyway?). After that, I felt I did all I could for the little pig. It ain’t like we bonded or anything. This dead pig wasn’t my problem. I didn't ask him to wander into my yard.

As I write this, it is still lying on the side of the road while cars whiz by. I feel bad about that because surely there must be someone missing their pig, even if they only intended to make bacon strips out of him. I’m thinking I should go outside with a few towels and hoist him off the sidewalk, away from the road where he met his death. Why? Maybe it's guilt, knowing that dumb little porker would still be alive and snorting if I had simply closed the gate when I came home, and now I felt removing his dead carcass from the indifferent rush hour traffic would atone for my lack of foresight.

I know, considering the circumstances, it's dumb to think this way, but guilt is a powerful, vicious beast. It can claw and eat away at you, even when you've haven't consciously done anything wrong. Hindsight is the mother of all bitches, and she doesn't care what your best intentions are.

If I had access to a time machine, I'd love to give that bitch the slapping she deserves.

*She has since rescinded that proclamation just a couple of weeks later, when she awoke to the smell of bacon frying on the griddle last Sunday.

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