To the US now, and the town of Sty, an unassuming suburb of Minneapolis. Our destination: a common-or-garden strip mall; a row of low-slung
buildings flanking the freeway which zips commuters in and out of the big city. Could be anywhere in America. There’s a Maccy D’s, a Lieutenant
Bob’s, a discount gun-store, a Macy’s, a plastic surgery studio, another gun-place (second-hand this time; refurbed cut-and-shut jobbies).
Slap bang in the middle of the strip there used to be a dentist’s. The windows are all boarded-up now and a roller-shutter has been closed over the door. It looks like
protection against some incredibly localised hurricane. It looks like a missing tooth in the set. It looks like a cavity. But in mid-2015, you could have been forgiven
for thinking this dentist’s was the centre of the universe. Certainly, as far as the social media hive-mind went, it was.
I dug out my old flak-jacket and combat-pants and revisited Sty this week in order to consider the aftermath of the scandal, two months after the storm had passed
and the ‘eye’ of the hive-mind had, like the one atop Sauron’s tower in Lord of the Rings, sought out something else, some new thing, to be scandalised by. And I
discovered a town which was still in shock; a place that was close to changing its own name so as to begin anew, as though it was in witness protection. And there
was a very real sense Sty had borne witness to something so terrible, so brutalising, that everyone in the place still bore the scars.
First place I went to was the dentist’s. There was still a patch of sidewalk out front of the place which was redder and bloodier than the rest of the walk (I was later informed this
was where a vat of pig’s-blood had been dropped, aping Carrie). It gave me the shudders. So did the graffiti on the boards covering the broken windows. It said: DIE, MURDERER.
I peered through the letterbox in the roller-shutter door and saw so much hate-mail piled on the mat. But eventually I had to remove my snout, on account of the stink of all the
shit which had also been pushed through.
‘You know,’ said a voice, ‘he hasn’t been back at all. Not since the protests. Whoever goes to the trouble of collecting all that animal faeces – scat I believe they call it – is
wasting their own sweet time.’
The owner of the voice was TAD. That’s what his namebadge said anyway. He was wearing a faded-looking Maccy D’s uniform, acne and a rather furtive look; kept jerking his
head around to see whether anyone else had spotted us talking. ‘Another thing,’ he said. ‘Town mayor – Dwain Neverson they call him – he has a team of painter-decorators
come down every morning afore the rush-hour, just to paint-over that graffiti. By the time I get to cooking my first Sausage and Egg McMuffin someone’s already happened along
and painted them same words all over again.’ Tad quickly reassured me that the sausage in the McMuffins he cooked had never even been near a pig, ‘and that’s the
Though he was antsy and excessively verbose, Tad still proved an adept guide to the local scene. I later realised this was on account of hi, being very bored;
his Maccy D’s barely saw a customer these days and he yearned for the back and forth of conversation. He brought me to meet the other business owners and
workers along the strip; introducing me to their wide-ranging opinions of the scandal which still stunk the place out like freshly-posted dog manure.
Here was Chuck Sycophant at the Bayeux Tapestry Emporia of Plastic Surgery. Chuck told me what happened wasn’t none of the dentist’s fault. Then he shot
me a shamed peek of his Colgates, which he claimed had never been the same since the dentist, like Elvis, had left the building. He said the dentist had now
abandoned Sty, Minnesota might as well get twinned with somewhere in damned Eng-land, on account of there being so many damned bad teeth knocking
about. Why, he prayed, had nobody thought of the poor toothy-pegs, huh? Why don’t they have an internet campaign ‘bout thattaone?
There was Mason Mangetout who used to only work the night-shift at Lieutenant Bob’s Burgers but now did all 24-hours on account he could no longer afford to
pay for staff on account the only thing passing through here now was tumbleweed. ‘If we’re going to play the blame-game boy,’ he spat (baccy), ‘it was all the
innernet’s fault what happened here, what laid waste to this fine town. If nobody’s seen that dentist’s picture, grinning like a loon over the body of that there
animal, nobody would have fuckin’ cared. Would have been like that there tree what falls in yon forest and nobody’s around to hear it. Oh we all knew the dentist
was a hunter. Hell, there was a snap of him wrestling a turkey in the waiting room. But nobody but nobody eyed a batlid ‘til the innernet got all offended by it.’
And here, at last, was Dwain Neverson at the second gun-store. Dwain doubled as the town mayor, but he asked whether he could speak offof the record. I told
him he could. He grinned. ‘Truth was,’ he said, ‘I was happier’n a pig in shit – ‘f ya ‘scuse the expression – back in them days of the scandal and the protests.
Took it on myself to take pot-shots at all them protesters from the roof of the store. Made it my own grassy-knoll, my own book depository. ‘F that dentist fella
ever wanted to come back round here, I’d welcome him with motherlovin’ open arms – though not in a homiesexual way – an the whole rootin’-tootin’ shootin’
match could start all over again. And hey, why you writing all this down, mister?’
Finally Tad brought me back to Maccy D’s where he fixed me a brewski and served up his first McChicken Sandwich of the month and then we retired to the
store-room. It was there I understood how wisely I’d chosen my guide into the arcane world of Sty. For that store-room was a veritable, verifiable – preach it
mister! – shrine to the scandal of two months’ back. Tad, bless him, had turned the room into the equivalent of a serial-killer / stalker’s, like, museum.
Here, shown off in a wonderfully elaborate display-case Tad had fashioned from a Big Mac box, was a show of teeth, human and animal. There, among the
stacks of unopened paper ‘kerchiefs, was a (still bloodied) hunting knife. Might well have been the dentist’s.
Here was the photo – it might have been the photo and not just a copy, such was the wonder of Tad’s curator-y skills – of the dentist, posed with his kill. There had been many other
kills of course, and Tad’s stores were pebble-dashed with the photographic evidence of them. But this was the one which had drawn the piercing glare of the social media hive-mind.
Tad told me to set back and soak it all in. He popped the lid off my Styrofoam cup of cawfee and slipped a few drops of the good stuff inside. That improved the view still further.
I asked Tad how well he knew the dentist.
Tad smiled. ‘Well enough to have been round his house a couple times. Saw all the heads on the wall in what he called his ‘common room’. Cows, sheep, horses - he had them all.
Well enough for him to let me call him Walt.’
As I supped my brewski, Tad proceeded to tell me the dentist’s tale. That tale of the dentist who had come to be known, in
left-leaning, animal-loving circles, as a by-word for wanton cruelty. The dentist was, of course, Walt Palmer, named for Disney,
whose movies his Daddy had loved, especially Bambi of course. Hell, Bambi had been pretty much a set-text in the Palmer
household from way back when. Lil’ Walt could have acted out pace for pace, shot for shot, that hunting scene in it, even
Walt wasn’t like most men. Naw, most men are born with a gift. Walt was singular; he was born with two. He could clean and maintain teeth with the
single-minded, all-purpose concentration of an apex predator, and fire a buckshot-rifle with the practised polish of an oral-hygiene surgeon. That this fairy
among Tooth Men was forced to ply his tooth-trade along some nowheresville strip-mall then take his gun to farflung places such as Zimbabwe to bag
his trophies was nothing short of a scandal. Indeed, there were some who thought that was the biggest scandal of the whole sorry episode. Tad, I gathered,
was among that crowd.
Walt hunted every damned thing. He vacationed in Thailand and Vietnam and sometimes in eastern Europe, where morals and gun-laws were laxer than most places.
He joined the stag-do crowd throwing live hand-grenades into herds of goats, or chain-sawing geese. Once, he moon-lighted in a slaughterhouse over in Maxville and
another time he took an unpaid internship in England, helping burning the carcasses of cows that might have been infected with mad-cow disease (he’d been ready to go
over to help with the badger-cull also, but had come down with ‘flu that week; honestly, it damned near broke him.)
But there was one piece o’ prey which forever eluded him, like goddamned Moby Dick or somesuch. And that was a pig. A roly-poly piece of pink porcine flesh was all
Walt Palmer required to complete his collection. Then, he reckoned, he could have bought the farm and been happy; his purpose here on earth served. But could he find
a pig? Could he buggery.
He’d almost given up hope until he heard on the hush-hush hunting grapevine about a private game reserve in deepest, darkest Zimbabwe. Name of El Dorado. Numbered
a few of the Mugabe clan as regulars. Boasted one of the largest, most diverse collections of wildlife outside of Richard bloody Attenborough’s collection of documentaries.
It included the piece de resistance, a pig named Cecil who went about the place like he was king of the bastard jungle. I mean, he’d gotten so fat, Cecil was half-truffle and
so hairy he could wear it like a mane. His oinks and grunts were as loud as a lion’s roars.
Walt worked on a lot of teeth that year. But he also re-mortgaged his holiday home in Florida and re-negotiated the terms of his alimony then sold his yacht.
Whacked his whole life-savings on a private jet which would take him to Harare, a pick-up out in the bush and on to Cecil.
The hunt matched the wits of man and pig perfectly. For a while it seemed there would be a stalemate in this high-stakes game of chess. But one morning, before
the sun had warmed the parched earth and while the creatures of the night still hadn’t retired, Walt stumbled across Cecil at a watering hole. They faced each other
down like the ultimate antagonists before Walt cocked his rifle and shot the pig right through the eye. Then he grabbed his selfie-stick and snapped himself sitting
astride the pig in a moment of absolute wonder, right as the sun breached the sky.
He uploaded this onto Facebook as soon as he got back to the safari lodge, which had free Wi-fi (though the connection was sometimes iffy). Tad ‘liked’ the image.
Chuck Sycophant commented: ‘we had a lady in the store just like that today! LOL! ROFL!’ and then shared his comment with his near three thousand followers and
friends who then shared it with theirs, who then shared it with theirs, until someone said WHOAH! Hold on a minute here. What that dentist has done is morally
And the righteous indignation, when it took ahold, was like wildfire.
Tad said the first actual protesters (as opposed to virtual ones) turned up within a week of Walt posting his pic. At first they came in dribs and drabs: a
woman got up in a Miss Piggy costume; a couple of Peppa Pigs. You get the gen: pig freaks. But then the animal-rights heavies showed, then the
Greenpeace folk, and then even common-or-garden types from Bronkenbuck Texas or whatever, all there to show solidarity with poor Cecil the Pig.
They came bearing placards (‘Extradite Palmer’) and with messily scrawled messages on bedsheets (‘Pig-Killer’) and with torches and freedom songs.
They blocked the entrances to the other stores on the row so that Bob’s and Maccy D’s never saw a single customer for near on a fortnight.
Walt came back from Africa, still high as a kite from the kill. Sometimes he took a few drags of the knock-out gas he gave to his patients, but that was
nothing compared to the after-kill high. But when he saw the protesters outside his business, Walt came crashing down to earth with a thud. He went into
hiding. Folk tried to hunt him down; went as far as his holiday home in Florida. But he was nowhere to be found, it seemed.
And gradually the protesters got bored and thought about moving on to the next big thing to be hot and bothered about. But one man managed to keep the story in the public eye.
One man went above and beyond. And that man was, against all odds, the British Prime Minister ‘Diddy’ Dave Cameron. As soon as he could, Diddy had taken time out from his
cripplingly busy schedule to hop on the redeye across the Atlantic and man (or should that be ‘puffin’?) the barricades outside the dentist’s place. You’ll have seen the footage:
Cameron wearing a tight white tee with the legend ‘I AM THE HOGFATHER’ emblazoned across his chest, right above where his heart was rather scurrilously rumoured to have
Tad shook his head, wearily. ‘Why in hell does that man love pigs so much, huh? I mean, hasn’t he got enough problems at home to deal with? Why couldn’t he have left us alone?’
Reader, I couldn’t answer him. But the next time you see ‘Diddy’ Dave on camera in the Commons and catch that mournful look in his eye, you can be sure he’s reminiscing about
one of the greatest (inter-species) love stories that's ever been told.
It’s recently been discovered that the doings of our friend breakfast: your sausages, your bacon, your black pudding, are as carcinogenic as getting both lungs into a filterless
Dorchester-and-Grey ciggie. But the porcine can hurt a body in a different way. It can break your heart right in two and leave you as derelict, as destitute, and as
dragged-and-dropped as a lonely old strip-mall in the suburbs of a big American city.
What happened in Sty should probably have stayed in Sty. But it hasn’t. It's stretched right across the world to London, to number 10 Downing Street, where Diddy Dave
considers whether to send his minimum wage butler out to grab a Maccy D’s breakfast, and if so, whether the vegetarian option will be edible.