On Cockfighting

As is contractually obliged by the Terms of Service of this here website, I am required to state in the opening sentence of this post (notwithstanding a brief exclamation, such as "Oh!" or "Yikes!") that it has been quite some time since I wrote on this blog. I've always found this to be a somewhat irritating and definitely pointless exercise, as it assumes that the person who is reading whatever you wrote is both incapable of scrolling down and has no long term memory. The lawyers have been appeased, so let's move on.

Since my last post, I've left Korea, hoboed from Mexico down to Peru, flew to Texas and then continued hoboing all the way to Massachusetts, where I have been trapped in a sort of sensory deprivation chamber (called "Cape Cod" by it's surly and enigmatic inhabitants) that has led me to start blogging again to avoid a complete crushing of the soul and mind. Seriously, people: today I purchased this. I have no idea why. I've never read any of it or known anyone who has. I don't own any comics or graphic novels and can't fully explain why the first one that I've chosen to buy is a 1300 page monster. I already have about six thousand pages of books to read because every time I go past the local Salvation Army I go in and buy six books. Honestly, I don't know who these people are who are giving these books away. On the last run, I picked up books by Don DeLillo, Phillip Roth and Thomas Pynchon. Apparently there's a refuge of postmodern literature professors hiding out in the woods behind my house. But I digress.

I've decided to use this space as a sort of mental clearinghouse for the types of things that I think incessantly on while locked up here. It's entirely possible this could continue once I go back to Guatemala in a little under a month, but let's not hold our collective breaths, because holding our breath for that long would be stupid and pointless and would undoubtedly kill us all. And who wants that?

Answer: this man, most likely.

I'm sorry. That was an absolutely shameless and inappropriate way to shoehorn my favorite website into this post.*

Have you ever heard of a journalist "burying the lede?" If not, then rest assured that you're witnessing a right powerful example right now.

I've been reading a lot of sports news lately for several reasons. One is that I've started getting the New York Times and their sports coverage is paltry at best. Two is that I spend a lot of time dicking around on the internet when I'm supposed to be studying for the GREs. Full disclosure: that's only two reasons, making the earlier claim of "several" somewhat inaccurate. Would you rather have me list a litany (alliteration!) of superfluous and half-baked reasons or would you rather have an already overlong, verbose story continue on unnecessarily longer? Don't answer that, I finished typing this a long time ago and I can't hear you. Did your parents drop you on your head as a child? Ridiculous.

I got distracted there for a minute and completely forgot how I was going to segway this into my actual topic, and honestly, this was the best I could come up with. I might be a little rusty.

Back in April, I rolled into a little place called Banos (note: I can't seem to figure out how to type non-English letters) in Ecuador. It's basically a small resort town about four hours southwest of Quito that is one of the most popular vacation spots for Ecuadorians; mainly for it's natural hot springs. Being set in a temperate place that looks like this doesn't hurt either. At this point in my trip, I had completely stopped planning more than twenty-four hours in advance and got on the bus in Quito because I had a half-baked plan to wander into the jungle to meet a friend of a friend, whom I had never spoken to, and hang out with a jungle tribe for a week. Needless to say, this plan fell apart almost immediately after it was hatched. I somehow arrived and managed to find a decent place to sleep even though I was landing right smack-dab in the middle of Holy Week in a country that takes their Catholicism a wee bit more serious than most. That said, pretty much everyone in Banos appeared to be celebrating Holy Week by getting very, very shitty. And by going to cockfights.

Not only is cockfighting legal and encouraged in Ecuador, it's also practically the national sport. To quote Lonely Planet, "a town ain't a town without a cockfighting ring," which, if I ever found some sort of Jonestown-type utopian settlement, will be the official town motto. Ecuadorian cockfights are a weekly, bring-the-kids type affair. The fact that we were sitting in a concrete building watching pairs of roosters try to kill each other for sport on Easter Sunday seemed to be of little concern to anyone in attendance. The mystery liquor that was being served at the arena bar may have had something to do with this.

But first, the building itself. Located several kilometers outside of town and down a shady alley behind a gas station stood the square, whitewashed building festively adorned with a painting of a pair of roosters facing off in boxing gloves. In actuality, the roosters are outfitted with sharp razors on their feet, but that failed to make the painting any less awesome.

The fact that cockfighting is legal here made the building's dodgy location a little mysterious. Why was it way out of town and not visible from the road? It makes the experience of entering the building a little anticlimactic, as those expecting a horde of chain-smoking Asian men yelling and waving thick wads of bills and shouting and generally carrying on (read: me) are disappointed to find something slightly more sane.

Each bout is preceded by all the interested parties crowding around a ping-pong table in the corner and thoroughly inspecting the two pugilist birds for an ungodly amount of time. The inspections, in the early parts of the night, can take up to thirty minutes. It should be noted that the length of these inspections tends to decrease as the night goes on, people get a little more mystery corn juice into them and a general attitude of "fuck it! Gamblin' time!" pervades the air. Regrettably, bets are placed in an entirely civil and sense-making manner that is absolutely nothing like Bloodsport or The Deer Hunter.

The fights themselves are not actually to the death, or more accurately, are not meant to be to the death, but if a rooster happens to die, then so be it. There are actually rounds, between which the owners tend to give little rooster-themed pep talks ("That rooster is fucking your hens! HE IS FUCKING YOUR HENS!") and do really creepy things like blowing on the rooster's head bloody head and sometimes even putting it into their mouths. I dimly recall that UFC lacked rounds until they started reforming in the mid-to-late-nineties, although I can't seem to find evidence of this. I plan to bring this up to John McCain if I ever meet him, probably because I can think of nothing less appropriate. Anyways, you should probably read closely, because this next piece of information will come in very useful if you're ever turned into a rooster and forced to fight another one.

There are two forms of rooster attack. One is the old-fashioned head peck, used like kick-boxers use punches - not really to kill, but just to wear down their opponent. As anyone who has ever cracked their forehead on something knows, scalp injuries bleed like hell, and be assured that for poultry it's no different. Feel free to go back and read the second sentence of the previous paragraph now. The other is to leap into the air and attempt to pin the other rooster's head to the ground. This is where the aforementioned razor blades on the feet come in. Repeat until one is dead or the owner decides he's had enough, which I suspect has something to do with salvaging that tasty, tasty cock meat.

I am absolutely positive the previous sentence was the worst thing that I have ever written. On the other hand, I think I deserve some sort of medal, or perhaps a collection of fancy cheeses, for making it that far without a single dick joke.

Actually, this is how roosters behave outside the ring. They just manage to do it without seriously hurting each other. While puzzling over this quandary, I remembered a comment a friend, whom I trust implicitly in all matters sub-legal and ethically questionable, made while telling a story about his Thai drug dealer and the mini-bike said drug dealer had bought for his Buddhist shrine. I believe the story consisted mainly of the dealer relating the quality and price of the bike along with the relative difficulty of getting it up the stairs. This dealer also trained roosters, and the admission of this fact led to the following exchange:

Fellow Listener: How exactly does one train a cock to fight?
Storyteller: I believe they torture the shit out of them. Anyway ... (Continues to extol the virtues of various opiates)

All this goes on in a pit surrounded by people yelling helpful comments such as "Come on, red!" and "Come on, white!" as well as the occasional drunk gringo getting a little too into it over the two dollars they bet on the fight. The crowd ranges from those who one would suspect would frequent cockfights, namely grungy men of indeterminate age who seem to know way, way to much about rooster physiology (picture the main character from The Sun Also Rises as a mustachioed cockfight enthusiast and you have the picture) to entire families from two to 102.

Admittedly, our crowd was a little light, it being Easter and whatnot. The final match of the night, which was the first one that I finally got around to betting on, actually ended in a tie. Someday, when I compile the list of most amazing things I've seen, I don't see how that is not going to crack the top five. It's like flipping a coin and having it land on the edge.

Here's the point where I'm probably supposed to take some sort of moral stand on everything I've just described or perhaps use it to describe some sort of greater human truth. On the other hand, I have two rules in life, one of which is to not get worked up over or read too much into events that take place outside small towns in Ecuador. I'll sum this up by asking the online Magic 8-Ball a series of questions

Will I ever train roosters to fight as a living or hobby?
- "My sources say yes."

Is cockfighting inhumane?
- "No."

Is a town really a town if it lacks a cockfighting ring?
- "Don't count on it."

Will that fact that I left the ring without paying for my Arroz Con Pollo ever come back to haunt me?
- "Concentrate and ask again."

Since I don't like taking orders from inanimate objects, and much less a simulacra of an inanimate object, here we must part. I promise further entries will be much shorter than this.

* Author is not actually sorry.

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