My Tragic Encounter With James Taylor’s Pig
The New York Times Magazine, September 12, 2013
The summer of 1971 was drawing to a close, and I had a large and growing problem: Kosher, my pet pig. I was 16, and the pig had been a poorly-thought-through joke gift from my father. When he brought her home to our Manhattan apartment in June, Kosher — the name was also his idea — was a (sort of) cuddly pinkish-white football who fit into a shoe box and drank from a bottle.
But by the end of the summer, which we spent at the beach, Kosher was pushing 150 pounds, eating voraciously and eliminating incessantly. She had taken to muscling out of her pen and afflicting the neighbors, toppling garbage cans and, once, a flaming Weber grill, making off with the steak that was sizzling atop it. A return to apartment living was out of the question.
Kosher had one other achievement in her brief life. That summer, I entered her in the local agricultural fair, in the category “Sow Under One Year.” She looked great and took home the blue ribbon. This accomplishment was dimmed just slightly by the fact that Kosher was the only pig competing in her age group. The local food movement had not yet gotten off the ground in 1971, so pigs were still quite rare in summer resort areas.
Hanging around the paddocks at the fairground, grooming Kosher with baby powder, I met a massive, full-grown pig named Mona. Mona’s owner was the singer James Taylor. Earlier that year the two appeared together in a cover article in Time magazine, so I recognized them both immediately. He and I chatted a bit, mostly about pigs. Mona, also uncontested in her category, won a blue ribbon, too.
I told Taylor about my problem and eventually worked up the courage to ask if he might be willing to pig-sit Kosher till the following summer. He was. So the next week, I lured Kosher up the ramp of my VW Squareback and drove her to his place, this vaguely gothic hippie house built deep in the woods. Taylor came out to greet me, his right hand thickly bandaged from a recent motorcycle accident. He showed me to Mona’s pen, and we introduced the two pigs.
It did not go well. Mona, who must have weighed easily a quarter of a ton, chased Kosher in circles, grunting ferociously. We didn’t know what was going on, initially figuring this was normal pig behavior, the working out of territory or hierarchy. Kosher started squealing in what, it gradually dawned on me, was terror. I proposed we find her some alternative quarters.
Taylor showed me where I could find some two-by-fours, a hammer and some nails, and we went out into the woods looking for a suitable triangle of trees we might turn into a makeshift pigpen. Because of his injury, Taylor could only watch as I nailed the wood to the trees, working as fast as I could. Eventually the distant squealing subsided, and we began to nurse the hope that the gals had worked things out between them.
By the time the pen was ready and we returned to fetch Kosher, she was sprawled on the ground, lifeless. Mona was drinking at her trough as if nothing had happened. Kosher, it seemed, had been literally scared to death. Neither of us knew much about pigs, or how vicious these so-called domesticated creatures could be. (I now know that you should never pen a young pig with an unrelated older pig.)
Taylor clearly felt terrible — here he was, trying to help out this kid, and he winds up killing the kid’s pet pig instead. All I could think to do was dig a grave off in the woods and bury Kosher. I ran back to the car to retrieve her blue ribbon, hanging from the rearview mirror, before closing her into the earth.
Several years later, an interviewer asked Taylor if he had ever composed “any screwball songs [he] wouldn’t dare commit to vinyl.”
“Oh, sure,” he said. “I wrote ‘Mona,’ a tune about a pig of mine. I was thinking about killing the pig because she was old. . . . In fact, I once saw it kill another little pig. They can get ornery in old age.” Taylor was also concerned Mona might hurt his young children. He sang a few bars of “Mona,” which he eventually did record. One verse ends with: “Oh, Mona, Mona, you can close your eyes/I’ve got a 12-gauge surprise/Waiting for you.”
“That’s a sweet little song, huh?” Taylor told the interviewer. “I occasionally play it at picnics.”