Best-selling musician and author Jimmy Buffett crafts a colorful tale about an unusually clever pig in “Swine Not?” Here's an excerpt.
About this book
Sometimes you have to find the story, and sometimes the story finds you. In all my previous fiction, the stories were rooted in this nomad life I live. I converted my real life experiences into fictional fun and made up a few more tales myself — always keeping a bit of mystery as to what was based on reality and what had sprung from my imagination. Faulkner said he was a liar by profession, and he made good money at it. However, in the case of Swine Not?, the story came to me.
One day our friend Helen Bransford brought over a manuscript she had written and some illustrations that went with it. She asked me to look at them. I know the basic story, and everyone who knew Helen did, too. Her real-life story was this: Former Belle Meade debutante from Nashville, Tennessee, wines up marrying well-known author and moves into the Carlyle Hotel in Manhattan with her husband, twin kids, cats, and large pet pig — which she conceals from the management for two years. I had joined the chorus of Helen’s friends who had told her, “You have to write this stuff down.” When you’re a fiction writer, you sometimes simply can’t top the facts.
It is a unique and magical thing to read an original story for the first time, especially when what you are reading is good and, in my case, makes me laugh out loud. Those original twenty-five pages of text and the accompanying illustrations hooked me. The idea of a mom and two kids hiding a pig in a four-star hotel suite on the Upper East Side of Manhattan got me thinking. When I finished reading Helen’s story, I walked from the office to my house with a smile on my face. I told my wife, Jane, who had introduced me to Helen many years earlier, that this was one of the quirkiest and funniest stories I had read in a long time.
The next morning, just before sunrise, I made my cup of English breakfast tea and walked out of the silence of the house into the still-dark morning. My usual route was down to the dock to smell the sea, then up the oyster-shell driveway to my office to work. My job that morning, I thought, was to edit Helen’s story and give it back to her with my advice about where to get it published. That would take me, and I would drop off the manuscript at her house on my way out to surf.
Lindbergh said, “We are of the stars,” and I believe and feel it and have always looked up to them for guidance, whether I was trying to find my way across the ocean or into the yet unwritten pages of a story. Standing at the water’s edge, I took in the view overhead of lingering planets and constellations still visible over the bay. My front yard, where the sea meets the sky, combined with the silence and the beauty of the natural world at that hour of the day, has long created a thinking spot. Sometimes there are things in a story or a song that need to be worked out. Other times I am just waiting to be struck by some invisible asteroid of inspiration. It is a good way to go to work, especially when you don’t really know what your job is.
Well, that morning, the stars did not directly do their inspirational thing, but instead they pointed me toward another source of thought. Sitting fifty yards off the beach was my little sailboat, High Cotton, she was A lovely and, some say, historic little gaff-rigged sloop that looked as good sitting at rest on a mooring line as she did under full sail. The sun was just beginning to light the sky to the east, and there was barely a whisper of breeze on the bay. I could hear the water, pushed by incoming tide, the moment, it suddenly happened. The stars had come through again. Staring at High Cotton, I heard a chord of familiarity ring out, and the universe connected the sailboat to Helen’s pig tale.
High Cotton was not a name I would have chosen for a boat, and it certainly didn’t fit the list of past vessels I had christened. She had been someone else’s dream, and someone else had named her. Naming, and especially renaming, a boat is a very serious and superstitious undertaking. It would be like renaming your child. Somewhere back in the mythology of mariners, it was decreed that if you acquired a boat that had already been christened, you could rename it only once, and the moment to do that was immediately after you sailed her for the first time. If you did it any time after that moment, it was very bad luck, and nobody wants to sail on a bad-luck boat.
When I bought High Cotton, she had come with an incredible pedigree, having been designed by Nathanael Herreshoff as a Buzzards Bay 25 and having been built at the legendary Brooklin Boatyard in Maine by Joel White, master boat builder and son of E.B. White. In her first year, she had made herself an instant reputation as one of the fastest and most beautiful boats in New England, and had won prestigious races from Newport to Nantucket, but I had not bought her to race. All I was looking for in High Cotton was a beautiful single-handed boat that I could spend time in alone on the water. With all the other things that I find myself doing, I still just like being a sailor best, and sailing a boat alone is what a good sailor can do. High cotton may not have been my original idea, but I could make her into that kind of boat and stay true to the designer’s original vision.
Staring at the boat that morning and listening to the stars, I realized that, like high cotton, Helen’s pig tale was a treasure I had inherited. It had captured my attention and gotten me thinking that there was more to the story. That is the way I felt about my little boat.
In its original form, Helen’s manuscript was totally entertaining and funny, but it also contained the potential for many characters and plots I was curious to explore. With Helen’s permission, I wanted to customize her boat. I called her later that morning and asked what she thought of my ideas. She laughed, and in the spirit of good fun, she let me loose; I was off and running to my imaginary shipyard.
I headed to the office, reread the manuscript, and started thinking about who and what I could add to the pig tale. It didn’t take me long before I was working out new plotlines. My plan for the story was not to change course but to add some interesting stops on the journey. I was sailing into uncharted waters as far as pets were concerned. The only pets I have ever owned were dogs. I take that back. I did own a parrot for one day, but I returned it to the pet store after the parrot made it very clear to me and my valuable thumb and forefinger on my left hand that it did not desire to be part of my life. I knew nothing at all about pigs as pets. I was about to find out plenty, and now so are you.
There are many people out there who have funny stories to tell, but it’s the writing-it-down part that’s tricky. I can tell you that even though writing is a gift, it is not one that comes with a set of instructions or an autopilot. You wonder why a lot of writers go crazy, drink themselves to death, or become recluses? Because it is hard work! I know. I could never have guessed that this little piggy would end up taking more than two years to write, but I should have known from my experience with real voyages. As Billy Cruiser says in an earlier book, “The best navigators are not always certain where they are, but they are always aware of their uncertainty.” Longer-than-expected voyages come with the territory if you are truly a sailor.
As I said before, sometimes you look for the story, and sometimes it comes to you. So if you are asking yourself the question, “What on earth is Jimmy doing writing a book about a pig instead of about boats, islands, bars, ballads, and beaches?” the answer is simple: “Swine Not?” I hope you enjoy this story.
— Jimmy Buffett
November 5, 2007
Palm Beach, FLORIDA
Don’t Look Down
Rumpy The Pig Speaks
I think there comes a time in everyone’s life when the werewolf-like winds of misdirection and the beasts of bad timing put us in an impossible situation. In my case, the question was this: How did a 151-pound pet pig manage to live undetected in a four-star hotel in New York up until this very moment? And what was a pig like me doing, shivering on the ledge of the hotel roof, twenty-five stories above Fifth Avenue?
”Don’t jump,” I heard a voice call out.
”I have no intention of jumping!” I wanted to reply, but I was too scared to move, much less carry on a conversation. The ice beneath my feet gave no quarter. The wind howled and swirled above my head. I prayed that I wouldn’t be turned instantly into an iceboat sail and be sent over the edge — for it was a long, long way down.
”Don’t jump,” the voice repeated.
I had no idea where it was coming from, and I did not dare look down. The skyline of Manhattan was at eye level and bobbing like an apple in a tub. The trees of Central Park bent and swayed in a fierce wind. The noise from the busy avenue below me would block out any attempt I made to squeal for help.
I did not sign up for this kind of trip. Pets rarely do. Our owners just assume we want to go along, and we often find ourselves riding off into the sunset with the excess baggage, iPods, cell phones, and Igloo coolers that belong to our well-intentioned but misinformed masters and mistresses. Pigs are not allowed in four-star hotels in New York City. Somebody should have thought about that before they brought me here.
If only this ice could melt beneath my short, trembling legs. Perched on the ledge, minutes away from turning into a very porky Popsicle, I would have given anything for a local news crew in a helicopter to hover above my chilly head and send some caring soul to rescue me.
A sudden gust of wind slammed into my side, and I did the only thing I could — I stiffened every muscle in my body and resisted the force with all my might. I was as rigid as one of the statues in Central Park across the street. It seemed like an eternity before the wind finally subsided, but I still couldn’t relax a muscle. And then I saw the tiniest bubble of hope arch above the trees. The survival corner of my brain blared out a warning: Don’t look down! Don’t look down!
I sucked in a gulp of fresh air, and for an instant, it was void of the telltale scents of the millions of city animals, plants, and machines I had come to know so well. I ignored the flashing red warning light in my brain, and I let my head tilt ever so slightly down past the ice-covered ledge, down over the trail of taxicabs creeping up Fifth Avenue to the spot where the ball had landed.
”Don’t jump,” the voice called out again.
I was both scared and relieved that someone was watching me, but my eyes were now fixed on that ball as it hit the ground. It was not a falling star, a meteor, or one of a thousand things that could fall out of a New York City sky. No, it was a soccer ball, and it instantly reminded me of where this whole story started, in a much more peaceful place called Pancake Park in a much smaller and quieter town called Vertigo, Tennessee.
Reprinted with permission of Little, Brown and Company. Copyright 2008 Jimmy Buffett. All rights reserved.
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