Jim Knable’s Sons of Dionysus: a lusty novel of myth, mirth, and music.
Every year before the spring tour, the SODs held a pigroast on top of West Mountain. Legend had it that the pigroaster was a man with no teeth, who drove up from the Appalachian Mountains with a dead pig in his trailer. He was said to have long scraggly hair and to always wear the same costume: black jeans, motorcycle boots, and the torn and grease-stained “wife-beater” tank-top. No one in the group knew when this tradition started. There was speculation that twenty or thirty years ago some great favor had been done by the group for a family of pigroasters during a spring tour of the Appalachian mountains, and now that family always sent a pigroaster up at this designated time to repay the favor. The pigroaster would, of course, not speak enough modern English to confirm or deny this speculation. He spoke the language of the hills, a mix of dialects and tongues, perhaps descended from the time before Babel itself
SOD, Chapter 8: Read by Jeb Brown, Christianne Tisdale, Mike Errico & Bob McGrory
According to further lore, the pigroaster liked to drink copious amounts of canned beer while roasting the pig. The group supplied the beer, another tradition. He drank it like water and often poured whole cans of it onto the roasting pig. The pig was roasted on a great spit under an iron shell and wooden frame. As it turned and turned, its flesh became gruesome; its head became a mask of horror. The pigroaster liked to rip the charred disfigured head off and wave it around at the college students. He made it talk and bark and grunt, using a crude but effective ventriloquism. So it was said.
I was thrilled to have been invited to the pigroast. Arthur suggested I track down Cassandra and invite her, too—I had told him about her while lying in our bunks one night. I had not yet tracked her down at all, but the thought of her mingling with such horror-roasted pig flesh and the unpredictable mayhem of the SODs was too much to consider. I had heard enough about the impending pigroast to know that it would be barbaric and cruel, might involve blood beyond the blood of the pig, and was sure to degenerate into a frenzied orgy. Everything I heard about it, from the description of the pigroaster to the culminating act of gorging on the pig as one whole feast of food, with no one allowed to use fork or knife, all present swarming upon the pig with teeth bared and consuming it until nothing was left but carcass, had come from around the table at the Owl, where the elders taunted the catamites (as the first year’s were called), scaring them with various rumors about this and other exercises in excess.
I was still an outsider. But being invited to the mythical pigroast made me feel that, if I was not at the round table, I was at least within reach of its edges.
The day arrived. I hiked up the hill with Charlegne, who was in a strange mood from the hormones she was taking in preparation for her surgeries.
What do you think of my breasts? she asked as we hiked. I was unprepared and said as little as possible in response.
Those might be what I miss most. I can’t wait for the rest, but the breasts have been fun. Don’t get me wrong, they’re also a real pain in the ass. But I did grow them, so I feel very close to them.
If my parents could only see me now, I thought, hiking up with Charlegne, now actually taking time to consider her breasts, which I hadn’t before. I had definitely never been attracted to Charlegne.
I really want to join them next year, she said then, Don’t you?
The SODs? I said, playing dumb.
I’ll be a man and you’ll be, well, maybe ready then.
I hadn’t really given it much… I stopped there. I was lying. I had given it a great deal of thought. I had also been encouraged by most of the group, sometimes in jest (you might as well join us, you drink all our beer), sometimes quite seriously (you’d make one hell of a long haired half-Jap SOD). My outsider status gave me a certain ability to enjoy them without being implicated in their more hideous proceedings. There were aspects of what they did with which I did not want to be associated. Taking advantage of women, running around naked, the farting and belching and general crudeness, both the homoeroticism and the hetero testosteronics; I imagined how embarrassed I might end up amongst them, how, while I loved the mythos and the music and even valued my one drug experience, the rest might simply be too humiliating, degrading, firmament-shaking.
Charlegne, I started to ask the question I had wanted to ask for a while now.
Call me that while you can, she shot.
Are you having your operation just so you can join them?
She laughed, then turned stern and profound. She stopped walking and addressed me as if she were standing at a podium.
No, Jeremy, she said, I have always been unhappy as a woman. Some women are unhappy being women because of the general garbage that women have always dealt with. Some women are unhappy because they aren’t the kind of woman they want to be. I have always felt, deeply, that I was not a woman at all. I think my brain is not a woman’s brain. It is not content in this woman’s body. I feel like I am a man. I want my body to match my brain. Do you understand?
I stood still with her and gave her the respect her tone demanded.
I’ve wished my body was different, too, I said.
She smiled. She knew I didn’t really understand, but she humored me.
We continued walking. Cassius rode past us on his unicycle.
Hurry, hurry, hurry! I can smell that pig from here!
He was off, his hair flaming behind him.
When we arrived at the barbeque, more than half the group was there. Drinking had begun. And singing. An old fashioned song from the 40’s, SODs swaying together, huddled in a circle with their arms over each other’s shoulders. Charlegne and I watched them. Delilah waved to us from the other side of the circle’s circumference. I glanced to where the pig was roasting, as promised, on the spit. Beside the pig stood a man in a Polo shirt and ironed plaid shorts, wearing horn-rimmed glasses, all of his teeth intact, reading Kafka with one hand while he twisted the pig spit with his other. Hardly the Appalachian mountain man promised.
The song ended, a new one began, and the pig kept spinning. At one point, Moses went and ripped its charred head off. He ran around with it, barking at the catamites: I’m the pigroaster, never thought you’d see me in the flesh did ya? Well I roast myself! I roast myself!
Eventually knives, forks and plates were passed out. The man turning the spit, who was a German grad student named Rolf, cut several even slices from the pig and we all sat down on rocks and grass to eat.
I’d like us to bow our heads and pray, said Moses. Mormon, will you lead us?
Mormon was a catamite named John Mormon, who was not a Mormon.
How? said John Mormon.
Moses said: You begin by paying tribute to the gods.
And here Moses did something shocking. He took his knife, closed the blade in his fist and pulled it out over the palm of his hand. Blood poured from him. He squeezed his fist and shook it to the ground. He opened his hand for us to see. Between two fingers he held the foot of a small frog cut in two, the real source of the blood. He had sacrificed this frog to pay tribute to the gods, it seemed. Genuine pagan stuff.
Go on, Mormon, Moses said, Say it as your ancestors told you in a dream someone else had.
Gods, John Mormon began. He was actually Jewish. The story was that his great grandfather’s name was Moritz, but a cruel intake officer at Ellis Island changed his name to Mormon.
Gods, he continued, beginning again, Watch over us as we eat this pig.
Good, good, said Moses.
Help us to do our best and to know right from wrong.
So that we can choose wrong rightly, said Cassius.
Help us be kind to each other.
Is this going to go on all day? said another SOD.
And may all our songs be sung loud and strong and pure of soul, to contradict the filth that spews from out of our mouths when we are not singing.
Amen, said everyone.
And then we all ate. It was an amazing feast. Along with the pig came various casseroles, salads, breads, grapes, peaches, melons, wines, beers, pies and cakes. There were a number of toasts, more songs throughout, a general buzz of joy never-ending.
At four in the afternoon we all rested. And at five, there were games.
The first game was Kick the Head. The skull of the pig was used as a ball. Two goals were set in a clearing, each guarded by SODs. There were no teams; it was every man for himself, though alliances were formed and broken throughout. If you had possession of the head, most everyone would try to stop you from getting it into a goal. Only through quickly made pacts and treaties, ensuring that other individuals sometimes blocked or tackled your adversaries to aid your progress, was there any game at all, as one person could never actually reach a goal if everyone was determined to stop him. Only two goals were scored in this entire game, one by Moses, who moved with such skill and speed that most of his adversaries were intimidated (Cassius took care of the rest through tripping actions), and one by Charlegne, who had formed an alliance with Delilah and two other girls there who were actually college soccer players. The game lasted about an hour and ended when the head was accidentally kicked out of bounds, hitting Benjamin, who was sitting on the sidelines with his broken leg up, in his head. There was some concern that he might have a concussion, but then he woke up and seemed fine. I was on the sidelines with him, watching, my customary position for any team sporting event. A piece of charred pig nose flew off the head when it hit Benjamin and landed on my lap, I brushed it away quickly.
I don’t like team sports. I grew up being pressured by peers and adults to play them. The SODs, to my great relief, did not pressure me in the same way. They offered, but did not insist. I explained to them that I liked to run for exercise, long runs with my hair flowing behind me, and that I enjoyed throwing a Frisbee. Now, at the end of Kick the Head, after the confirmation that Benjamin did not need to go to the hospital (confirmed by his inexpert self-diagnosis), Cassius yelled over to me: This next game’s for you, Kuritomi!
The next game was the Bone Throw. It had become obvious by this point that all the games would be played with the remains of the pig. There was some tactical skill as well as physical strength required for the bone throw. Everyone stood in a line that stretched lengthwise across from the pig. One person was to suddenly run at the pig, rip off a bone and throw it in the appointed direction. If more than one person made a run at the pig, the person who got to it first, touched the spit handle and said “Beelzebub” got to take the bone while the slower person went back in the line. The tactical skill was largely in choosing which bone to throw. Dexterity came into play in extracting the bone from the pig, which was slippery with cooked fat. Strength partially determined how far the bone got thrown, but this was just as much determined by which bone got throne. Some bones, being lighter and more aerodynamic, flew farther than others. Heavier bones, while they were fun to attempt, tended not to go very far.
My heart was pounding as I stood in the line. I had drunk a good deal of beer, which enabled me to get past my initial fear. Arthur made the first run at the pig, uncontested. He pulled a rib swiftly and hurled it high into the air. It flew far and landed at some distance. All applauded, it was an impressive throw. Bo Tayler made the next run at the pig. Bo was in his third year and was by far the largest SOD, a football player who was frequently absent from the Owl, though he was always appreciated, when he came, for his jocularity. A couple other small SODs made the mistake of running for the pig at the same time as Bo, one on either side of the massive hulking man. He quickly and instinctively shot his arms out to either side as he ran with them, propelling the small SODs off into the distance laterally so that he burst forth from them like the high water in a fountain. He reached the pig and grabbed a great hunk of bone from the hip. Perhaps he knew that no one else would dare grab such a big bone and was sacrificing for his team (Team SOD) as he surely knew it would not fly far. He threw it like a shot-put, hardly the most efficient method for a long distance throw. He could have easily hurled a rib like Arthur had thrown off the mountain and ended the game. But he was a gentle giant who would rather sacrifice his glory than stop anyone else’s fun. He turned to us all, smiled goofily and shrugged.
The bone selection was dwindling. I knew I had to go now if I was to go at all. I also knew exactly which bone I wanted. Up in the shoulder, long and flat, but light, like a Frisbee. I ran. I saw out of the corner of my eye that Cassius had also chosen to run this turn. Whether he let me win or I, with some skill at running, won naturally, I cannot say. But I touched the pig and yelled Beelzebub! There was a great cheer from the line. Cassius patted me on the back and let me have my turn. I pulled the bone tenderly, being sure to keep it intact. I weighed it in my hand. I felt a golden surge through me. The run to the pig had released a great power in me; the beer in my blood gave me an unusual confidence. I moved like a discus thrower in reverse, I spun around completely twice with balletic precision and then let hurl the flat disc-like bone which sailed high and long and then kept going even farther on a great gust of wind that caught and carried it. It passed Arthur’s rib bone by several yards. I turned to the assembled line. They stared at me with an awe that made my face hot. As a group they bowed, low at the waist. This was the sign, made by all, when it was apparent that no bone could possibly be thrown better. I had won. I felt my mouth smile a toothy smile that I couldn’t suppress and didn’t want to.
Having very little left of the pig to play games with, there was only one event remaining. Pig Fat Wrestling. The few and proud amongst the SODs stripped down completely, covered themselves in the slippery grease and faced off in a ring made by the arm-linked bodies of other SODs. Though Bo Taylor did his best to handicap himself, he defeated SOD after SOD until the last slippery mess of man fell under his great heft. Being too humble to raise his fists in victory, Delilah and Charlegne ran up beside him and raised them for him. He looked down bashfully.
A crowning ceremony was held for the victors in the sepia light of the setting sun. I stood with Charlegne, Moses and Bo Taylor on tree stumps. Cassius bade us each to bow and he lowered laurels made of ivy on our heads. I looked back and forth at my fellow champions. I was in a new and shining place.
We continued on with the evening’s festivities, more singing and drinking. A bonfire got made; most present got naked, held hands and danced around the bonfire, their loose parts bouncing and flickering shadows in the fire’s glow. I watched, once more from a distance. I was thinking back on the events of the day. I was wishing I had invited Cassandra so she could have seen me win. Someone sat near me.
Good throw, a female voice said, Congratulations.
I looked up and saw Delilah.
I play Frisbee, I said, never having expected to say that so proudly.
I like your hair, I’ve always liked your hair, she said, drunk, I want to run my fingers through it.
She touched my hair with one of her hands, combing back from my forehead to the end of my skull. She moved closer. I could smell the alcohol on her and I smelled something else, something womanly that made me aroused. She swung her leg back and then around me, as if getting on a saddled horse, holding me from behind while she kept petting my hair and nuzzling my neck with her warm lips, her hot breath.
Are you ready? She whispered into my ear.
I felt her breathing against me, us breathing together, her front to my back.
For what? I said.
She slid her hand effortlessly down my pants, I caught my breath as I felt her firm full hand on me, holding, caressing. I said nothing, but let her touch me. I felt the soft pressure of her breasts against my shoulder blades, felt her rocking, moving on me, her legs clutching, her thighs. She moaned weakly into my ear, she moved her body faster and her hand on me grasped. I felt her shaking and hot and then I felt the great build and rush from me. We both moaned together, our voices as one, low and rumbling.
She pulled her hand out from my pants, still sitting astride me. She leaned on me, resting.
She stood, unstraddling.
You’ll be a great lover someday, she said. And then she bent and kissed my lips. Her breath was foul with beer and pork, but the fabric of her mouth was warm and good. She caressed my face and then she walked away, stripping as she went, until she was naked in the shadows of flame, linking arms with the dancers, howling with them in primal elemental ecstasy.
Continue to Chapter 9
Jim Knable is a Brooklyn-based writer of plays, songs, prose, and the occasional screenplay. His plays have been produced at MCC Theatre, Woolly Mammoth Theatre, Soho Rep, NYC’s Summer Play Festival and other regional theaters, and have been published by Broadway Play Publishing, Dramatic Publishing, Samuel French, Smith & Kraus and Playscripts, Inc. He released his solo album Miles in 2000 and Redbeard (2006) and Golden Arrow (2009) with his band The Randy Bandits.
Mike Errico (audio) is a musician, writer, producer, and music supervisor based in Brooklyn.
Bob McGrory (audio), who vividly portrayed the Mayor of Bladensburg, is currently featured off off Broadway as a Town Manager on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.
Jeb Brown (audio) recently left Spidey’s web after taking the long, strange trip with the original company of Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark, his 10th Broadway outing. He’s in The Dictator, with Sacha Baron Cohen, to be released next year, and is currently working on a documentary film about the intersection of theatre and bipolarity, all while enjoying Brooklyn and family.
Beeb Salzer (illustration) is an artist, set designer, and essayist based in San Diego.