a dunghill world

After our goal to stop the Vietnam war was achieved I closed down The 
Committee and was eking out a meager living playing poker in card rooms 
around San Francisco. I was living in a skid row hotel and Chubby Crank 
took me in. I lived in a bean bag on his living room floor and our 
fortunes were enhanced by winning efforts in our popular high stakes 
poker sessions.

Chub was musical director for a successful singer, Ray Price. Ray had a 
ranch in East Texas where he raised race horses and gamecocks. I didn't 
know about the latter but Chubby assured me that they were part of a 
very fascinating world that was extensive though almost entirely a 
secret from the real world. For a season we lived on Ray's place and 
attended about a dozen derbies. The following year we had our own 
operation and fought roosters all over North America.

I was a novice at raising gamecocks but withthe aid of Stan Mack my 
poultry won a couple of fights. The teams I was associated with won some 
big events but I had to give it up and return to the world of science 
when my backers encountered some legal problems.

One thing I noticed during all this was that it was possible for success 
to make relationships worse instead of better. When we won a big derby 
in Arizona and were in the hotel room with thousands of dollars in cash 
on the bed, the partners began wrangling about who deserved the most 
credit, or more accurately the most cash. I didn't participate since 
none of it was mine, but the discussions put a strain on what should 
have been a triumph. I wondered if victorious athletic teams had this 
kind of problem.

Chicken fighting is about the only "blood sport" that is legal in this 
country since bare knuckles were outlawed in prize fighting. There are 
underground full contact "anything goes" fights but these are usually 
illegal and not sanctioned by my ethics. Gamecock fighting is another 
matter. It is legal in a few states, though often the associated betting 
is at best frowned upon.

The ethics of betting are interesting in that there are some arcane 
practices. Someone stands and shouts "I'll lay 100 to 80."  It is bad 
practice to ask which rooster he is selecting, if you lay the odds you 
pick the bird.  Also you might be favorably surprised when he picks the 
bird you don't want.  If you lose the bet, form dictates that you seek 
out the winner and pay him. Very seldom is this protocol violated.

Another convention is when you are in a position to win a big purse by 
winning one final match.  In this case you are expected to "hedge" by 
betting against your own chicken because if you lose you will at least 
get some consolation money, if you win the purse makes the loss of one 
bet insignificant.

There are three full-time journals filled with articles about the 
"derbies" and advertisements for fowl and the gear used in the sport. 
The people involved are seldom concerned with justifying their activity 
because they maintain secrecy and recognize that in this country the 
public just "isn't ready" to accept what they know to be true about 
their game.

In most of Latin America, the Philippines, and Asia cockfighting is a 
major national passion. One of the most surprising things to most people 
is that in France it is very widespread, yet almost no tourists are even 
aware that it's happening.

Unlike bull fighting, cockfighting is quite safe for the human 
participants. Occasionally people will get mad at each other over the 
handling of the combatants or because of a perceived welching on a bet, 
but mainly the passion is over the courage shown by the fowl. This 
characteristic is where the word "game" gets one of its meanings.

When we arrived at the pit the day before the derby the parking lot had 
pickups with shells; participants were moving their charges into a 
dirt-floor cockpit filling with caged roosters who strutted about, 
looking good. 

Gamecocks are quite colorful with long tails and "boastful" posture. 
They scratch the ground, flap wings, stretch and try to outcrow all 
their fellows. Their heads move about rapidly and if you get to hold one 
its body feels as hard as a football. They are ready to kill something.

Their genetic selection is based a little on their athletic ability and 
fighting skills, a lot on their courage. When we use the word "game" to 
describe a prize fighter who can absorb punishment we are paying tribute 
to the life/death focus of these descendants of the jungle fowl 
originally from Indonesia. The difference between this poultry and the 
"dunghill" creatures that wind up in a bag at a fast food establishment 
is that we, at least in lip service, can identify with gamecocks as 
having nobility.

Although they weigh around five pounds, they will back down from no 
living thing. They are no match for a dog but they often die rather than 
fly. When pitted against another rooster they will try to fight after 
they have legs and wings broken - by just pecking at their opponent. If 
they show any "dirt" by playing dead or running they will never be 

The morning of the derby a lottery matches them by weight and care is 
used to prevent common interests from competing when possible. As in 
horse racing there is a lot of talk about cheating but after a couple of 
seasons it seems more often to be paranoia than conspiracy.

Each contest is preceded by a weigh-in and a check of the weapons. Gaffs 
must be pointed but without sharp edges and their curve must meet a 
standard. The other weapons, called knives, are mostly used in Asia and 
Latin America. The consensus in the Southeastern U.S. is that the 
quality of gameness is best illustrated with gaffs because with knives 
chance plays a greater role in the outcome. Padded covers over the 
birds' natural spurs are sometimes used when sparring cocks in training 
to find suitable warriors. Outsiders sometimes propose making 
cockfighting a sporting event instead of a blood sport. The best 
handlers don't put a lot of stock in sparring ability and are completely 
uninterested in "boxing matches" with the outcome decided by judges. We 
like to think certain mental states are strictly human but it is very 
easy to come to believe that t hese birds have a specific intent to 
kill. It's not about territory or sex. It has nothing to do with food. 
They want to kill the other rooster.

When our match is called Stan takes our rooster to the center of the 
cockpit for a face off in which both pitters hold their charges in a 
postition where they bite and tug at each other's combs and wattles. 
Although these are trimmed, they must be left large enough to act as 
radiators for the heat they are soon to build. The referee calls for the 
fight to begin and the two gamecocks attack often flying several feet in 
the air for their first set-to.

The most effective strategy is to get atop the back of your opponent and 
drive a gaff into the heart. Head shots and other flailing with the legs 
look spectacular but don't often get the job done. Sometimes it's all 
over in one quick flurry but more often both combatants are wounded and 
the outcome is deferred for several encounters. When the contest isn't 
finished in a few minutes they go to a small outside arena called a drag 
pit. Sometimes they are both so hurt that the decision is reached 
because only one is still able to show any fight.

Although it is very bloody and savage, it is not cruel. And we don't eat