Five Points, Vol. 9 No. 2Fall 2005
From Thomas Lux, “I think the only freedom I need (that all of us need) is time.”
Escape from Hog Heaven
During the summer of 1978, New York City garbage bags leaked and oozed in front of every building. The waist-high trash blocked access to the parked cars, and dogs were forced to urinate and worse against the stench-filled bags. After coming in from outside, I needed a few minutes of lying prone on the couch to regain a regular breathing pattern. One evening my parents suggested that I might benefit from a couple of months out of Manhattan. As the son and daughter of poor immigrants, they’d never had the chance to escape the odoriferous city heat. Perhaps, they said, I should breathe in fresh air, see some nature, and possibly learn French.
My high school required that I take several years of either French or Spanish. At thirteen I’d just finished my first year of French, and I’d barely squeaked by—my New York accent kept the teacher continually shaking his head. It was gibberish to me, and I kept failing the listening part of our exams. A friend of the family had suggested a program called “The Experiment in International Living,” and we excitedly filled out the application.
The concept was that for a fee a teenager could be sent to spend the summer with a family in a foreign country. As I was only thirteen, I wasn’t considered mature enough for France or Switzerland or any of the more exotic options. I was eligible for St. Marie de Beauce, a rural town in Quebec.
There were fifteen of us and a program director arranged our living situations. I was to live with a family who owned a pork farm. They fattened up a little over a thousand pigs, eventually selling them to a rendering plant that turned them into neatly-sliced Canadian bacon. The family, consisting of Monsieur and Madame Le Duque, their three daughters, aged eight, ten, and seventeen, and a son, fifteen, knew not a word of English. I would be forced to speak French.
When I heard there would be a fifteen-year-old son, I began daydreaming about the love affair that would ensue. We would use our hands to say all that we couldn’t manage with words. When I arrived and saw that Pierre was a skulking sort of fellow with mud in his hair and a permanent sneer, I let that daydream drop to my feet.