GAME...in 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 sires. 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 them.