It was 7:00 in the morning and the sun was just starting to remind my legs who they belonged to. Ruslan and I had pulled over 150 kg (330 lbs) of fish out of the pond he had stocked the year before. He had done all the fancy work, dragging a net across the width of the pond, paddling over to one end, and then yelling and slapping his oar on the water. The torrent of carass, tolstolob, and amur (I still don’t know their English names) would fly away from him and get caught in the net. He would then carefully gather both ends together and drag the whole wriggling mess back to where I sat waiting. He’d undo each fish and throw them to me Seattle fish market style and I would divide them into several unruly piles, discriminating by race, not size. We didn’t need to worry about flies or the sun, we were standing in a walk-in freezer.
“Alright then, pull it out”
To the side we arranged a couple logs into makeshift table and chairs. He laid out a loaf of bread, a cucumber, a small block of cheese, and a length of cured sausage (similar to salami), I placed the bottle in the middle. He pulled out a couple grimy metal cups, poured a little into each, and wiped them clean. I remember thinking that he was a genius. As he poured and I tried rubbing some life back into my fingers I remembered a story a friend had told me of three guys that had died last week camping in the forest. They had put a few bottles out in the snow to keep them cold, apparently the snow had worked so well that one of the bottle’s contents killed them on the way down, freezing their throats. I had yet to determine whether the story was true or not but saying no was not an option, I resigned myself to risking my life out of pride.
Halfway through the bottle I had forgotten about the cold and my fingers no longer shook when holding up the shot glass. Ruslan was feeling it too, he was halfway through the story of how he joined the circus as a teenager (a story I had heard many times but still did not completely understand) when his friend arrived. I think his name was Sasha but he was known for having many pigs. In one hand he brandished another bottle and in the other a plastic shopping bag. Ruslan bolted out of his seat, reached in, and pulled out a milk colored pimply length of leather… pig skin… raw. He flipped out his knife and sliced it into pieces roughly the size of my hand. He tossed me one and started tearing into his own like it was beef jerky. Rubbery, pungent, funky, I tried not thinking of frozen mice feet. The only reason I didn’t cough it up was the intense fear of letting all of America down.
Ruslan and I put together a makeshift fire as Sasha rolled up another seat for himself. I then laid an iron spider pan (I think that’s what it’s called) onto the fire as Ruslan cut the rest of the skin into pieces and threw them on. By the time we had started on the third bottle we had gone through most of the skin that had turned into an amazing fatty, crunchy, crackling.
Man walks up to a cigarette stand and asks for a pack, reads the label, and says “may cause death”. He tosses it back to the vendor and asks for another, “this pack’s no good”. The vendor tosses him a different pack, the man reads the label and says “may cause impotence”. He looks up at the vendor, tosses it back, and says “I want the first one back”.
It wasn’t until the next morning when I woke up with tiny demons pounding my head with hammers that I thought — why the hell did we eat the skin raw first?