As close to an honest story as I'm capable of. #flashfiction #shortstory https://t.co/wlp2YyEJw3 https://t.co/blT4yyxljz (2 days ago)

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Aug
13

man vs. cock

I was thinking about the outcry created by the YouTube footage of New York Mets pitcher Pedro Martinez attending a cockfight in the Dominican Republic a few years back and I thought it was time I came clean about my own dirty secret.

I was a journalism student on vacation in Haiti during the mid-90s. I needed to get away from the pressures of my life and I thought a few weeks in Port-au-Prince would be just the thing to clear my head. It was indeed. The ‘cockers’ must have seen me coming a mile away, young and white and very broke. I stepped off the bus on the western end of Hispaniola and found roosters were all over the walls of the labyrinth of alleys that made up Bel Air, a dust-, smoke-, and exhaust-clogged slum that perched on a hill in downtown Port-au-Prince. While in the country I was born cockfighting was seen as a backwards and primitive, I had stepped headlong into a world where it was the number one sport. It was almost as if cockfighting was in the air but not so much that you could taste cock in the air. Please, focus here people.

“In the cockfight, man and beast, good and evil, ego and id, the creative power of aroused masculinity and the destructive power of loosened animality fuse in a bloody drama of hatred, cruelty, violence, and death,” the anthropologist Clifford Geertz wrote of the cockfights he observed. It wasn’t long before I was intrigued enough to start asking around about a good place to watch my first cockfight. I had made a few friends during my short time there and I told them I was anxious to see what all the fuss was about. They informed me that the entrance fee to the local arena was one hundred pesos, more than a day’s pay for most of the locals. More than I had on me. They told me not to worry and gave the address of a man who could get me in. Not only in but ‘in’ I was told. I would be a cocolo! At the time I assumed that was some sort of visiting dignitary but that proved not to be the case. I really should have brushed up on my Haitian Kreyol before stepping on the plane.

I arrived at the arena as instructed. The crowd was only just beginning to filter through the gate, where a large sign was posted; PROHIBIDO ENTRAR CON BEVIDAS. Toward the entrance to the ring itself, a dirty cafeteria on the left sold fried plantains and hot dogs. Past the cafeteria, the roosters that had been readied to fight pecked impatiently at Plexiglas windows clouded by age and grime.

Waitresses circulated around the edge of the arena, where they sold drinks out of aqua plastic trays and collected money in Styrofoam cups. I vividly remember the arena being choked with a powerful array of smells: body odor, cheap cologne, rum hot on the breath of the sweaty men crammed together and dangling their arms into the ring.

I was led through the crowd to a rickety, wooden three-legged stools where men I had never met began to tape tortoiseshell spurs onto my ankles. Something didn’t feel right.

Suddenly the men stood up, waving their arms, flashing fingers up and down shouting: “Blanco! Doy! … Azul! Ochenta a cien!

Two of my more burly ‘handlers’ pushed me through the crowd and deposited me into the green-carpeted gagaire, which had a diameter of about 15 feet and was ringed by a low concrete wall, as my scraggly opponent was lowered in. It looked like a normal chicken to me until it ran over and starting pecking the fuck out of my legs. The crowd erupted in cheers as I danced around trying to avoid its sharp talons. That was all fun and games until the little prick really stuck me (it drew blood and everything!) and I got pissed and punted the little fuck into the wall. This time a different group of men cheered wildly and I suddenly became very aware of which men there had bet money on me and which had bet against Blanco. That group started clapping again as their bird regained his feet and charged me.

I guess life is funny sometimes. I really never thought I’d be in a Haitian slum engaged in a real live cockfight but there I was. Not only that but I felt good. I felt alive. For those few moments the cockfight focused on aspects of life and aggression that I had never experienced, and projected them into a theater where they could be more clearly expressed and understood. I was young and I was punching a bird! Emotions were displayed in a cathartic microcosm of human/rooster interaction, violence released through the flailing spurs, feet, beaks, hands, and feathers in a blood-soaked ring.

“This is for you Coronel Sanders!” I screamed as I cannonballed on my twitching opponent and sent him to KFC hell.

There you have it. My terrible secret. I was young and in a foreign land. Happy now? But before you judge me I ask that you climb into that ring yourself and pit your wits and courage against the best that roosterdom has to offer. Then come talk to me and Pedro about fighting cocks.

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