This little piggy went to market

Image of piglet in burlap sack Recently, I noticed a Facebook post on a friend's timeline pimping Initiative Q: a new scheme purporting to be "a modern payment network that will aggregate the best tech to make a new global urrency". Since there's very little I cannot already buy using coin of the realm through PayPal, I have no need, nor desire, to move away from the efficacy of what's tried and true. The promise of truckloads of cash being dumped in the drive is about as believable as money transfers from a Nigerian Prince or a penis enlargement, all of which I've received similar Internet-based offers. Frankly, there's not enough room in the driveway to accommodate the size of truck that I'd need full of cash to make my life complete, I've already been to Nigeria and if my schlong were bigger I'd have to buy new trousers. I like the ones I already have. Put another way, my only response to the Initiative Q offer is 4Q2.

The scheme did, however, get me thinking about other forms of currency and how commodities (or services) have been traded over time. Many years ago, I recall my father doing some carpentry work for a neighbour. The neighbour, in turn, did some mechanical work on the old man's car. Commonplace were these sorts of barters and, in fact, I'd venture a guess that such transactions still occur regularly today. And therein lay the subject of this missive: barter for services.

I first met Dick Sutton and his wife Jackie back in the mid-80's. At that time, we both owned cottages on the same Eastern Ontario lake and it was not uncommon for us to get together for a summer BBQ, a game of horseshoes or to simply sit around a campfire on a summer's evening and enjoy some cold libations. Jackie passed away back in 2001 and Dick, about five years ago, as his aging body failed. They are both resting at the Hope Cemetery in Ottawa South. Dick shared a very funny story with me one time while I was visiting him and his wife Jackie at their home in Hintoburg back in the '90's. It is a true story; a story of bartered goods, a story of trickery gone wrong and a story of love. But more than that, it is a funny tale and one worth sharing.

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Dick was an old-school auto mechanic: tools were his brush, oil and gas his paint and non-functional engines his canvas. Dick's auto mechanic repairs could best be described as functional. It was not always aesthetic, often occupying the tenuous space called ugly, yet despite his use of wire, twine, rivets, manufactured pieces, duct tape, bent nails, bolts or screws, his handiwork generally stood the test of time and functionality. He epitomized the mantra that "Third class driving beats first class walking". And he knew alot about walking, often citing that the only reason Main Street was paved was to fill in the path he had worn as a young man walking between his home and Jackie's as he pursued her in courtship.

In the early years they lived, for a while, on a small farm near Roslin. The property, the old homestead where Dick had been raised in the '30's, had been left to him by his father and while it had been many years since it had been used as a farm the barn remained. Dick managed to eke out a modest living practicing his art. He worked odd jobs, wherever possible, and took on any auto repair jobs that happened to come his way. On one particular occasion, an old Rambler, driven by one of Dick's neighbours, laboured into the driveway. The arse end of the car was noticeably lower on one side, a condition which Dick quickly diagnosed as a broken rear spring. The repair time and cost, Dick explained, would depend on whether or not he was able to locate a used part in a local wrecking yard. Ultimately, Dick completed the repairs and, a few days later, contacted the neighbour to let him know the car was ready. Despite the neighbour having insisted how important it was to get the car repaired, the vehicle sat unclaimed, in Dick's yard, three or four more days.

"Times were tough" the neighbour explained, and he simply didn't have the money to pay the car repair bill. This left the neighbour (and Dick) in a bit of a pickle. No work, no money, no money, no car, no car, no work... a circular dilemma. The neighbour, accepting there was an outstanding debt, wanted to discuss payment options with Dick. Eventually they agreed upon terms which both could live with. The neighbour would reimburse Dick for his out-of-pocket car part expenses, and to compensate Dick for his labour, the neighbour would provide him with a pig which could be butchered in the fall. He did, after all, have a barn in which he could keep the pig. Later that day the neighbour returned with a large pig which they put in the barn. A couple of weeks later, the porcine plan became exponentially more complicated when Dick entered the barn to discover that he no longer had a pig; he had TEN of them. The pig his neighbour had delivered, a now marginally smaller sow, had dropped nine piglets, all of which were suckling on the fruits of his labour. His plans had taken on a whole new dimension.

Dick, of course, was a pragmatic man and all problems, in his mind, had simple, cost-effective practical solutions. "We'll take them to the sale barn!" he told Jackie, a solution that would not only solve the piglet issue but also one which turned "payment in pig" into "payment in money", the original desired outcome from his Rambler repair efforts. As they were preparing to leave for the livestock sale barn, Dick asked Jackie what colours of nail polish she might have on hand. Thinking he wished to choose a colour that she might wear, she displayed a few options; Autumn Crimson, Pearly White and Blue Lagoon. "Oh definitely the blue one" Dick said, "bring that one along." Jackie put the nail polish in her purse and was, in fact, painting her nails in the passenger's side of the car as Dick loaded a burlap bag of squealing piglets into the trunk of the car.

When they arrived at the auction barn, Dick asked Jackie for the blue nail polish. "Why are you doing that?", Jackie asked, as Dick placed a small dollop of blue nail polish on each of the piglet's ears. "You'll see in a bit." was his only reply. He removed the burlap bag from the trunk and proceeded into the auction, registering and turning the livestock over to auction officials. A short time later, Dick and Jackie were seated at the auction, watching as various livestock were paraded and subsequently sold. "We have some fine piglets," the auctioneer announced, "We're gonna start this off at fie fie whoola gimme fie" the auctioneer began, starting the bidding process at five dollars. There were no initial bids.

The auctioneer lowered the initial bidding price: first to four, then to three and finally to two dollars. A gentleman at the front began bidding. Then another slightly to the left and one row back. The two were engaged in a bidding battle and the price quickly rose; two, three, three-fifty, four dollars. "Fie fie, whoola gimme fie" the auctioneer cried. Dick raised his numbered card, joining in on the bidding frenzy: six, six-fifty, seven, eight, nine....

Jackie was confused. They had brought piglets to the auction yet here Dick was, bidding on piglets. It made no sense. It was precisely at that time that she noticed that the piglets on the auction block had nail polish on their ears; the same unmistakable Blue Lagoon polish that adorned her fingernails. "Dick, Dick," his wife exclaimed, "those are your own pigs! They have blue on their ears!" Of course Dick knew they were his own pigs. That is precisely why he was bidding on them: to juice the price! But now the whole world knew. Or, in this instance, the man to the left and one row back who immediately stopped bidding when the deception was revealed. "Ten going once, ten going twice," the auctioneer continued, "Sold to 168 for ten dollars!".

It was a done deal. Dick had just bought his own piglets.

Submitted by Jeff Dubois, 30 September 2018