The Breakfast Table

Rescuing the Roosters

Dear Unnecessarily Apologetic You:

The cure for diabetes is pretty fabulous news this morning. The fact that Bob Hope remains alive is good news, too. Your dog story was heartwarming–and funny–but it reminded me of the first thing I was told when I started working at the Washington Post 11 years ago. “No dog stories!” an old-timer warned me. “Ben Bradlee hates them.”

As for last night in Boulder, I won’t go into details because I’ve been told by the Slate Police that I’m not to use this forum to bore people with accounts of my book tour. The news is so much more exciting! And actually, after picking up the New York Times for bedtime reading, I did chance upon a subculture more engrossing than Buddhists or Bobos: The resurgence of professional cockfighting in America. Yesterday’s front-page story gave us the business angle–the $25 million spent on fighting cock feed last year in Oklahoma alone (one of the three states, along with New Mexico and Louisiana, where the sport is legal.) This trend story made cockfighting seem troubling and hideous by sheer numbers.

But it was also missing something–like, well, the appeal of this sick sport. Why would anybody want to see birds kill each other? I returned to Monday’s Times and found the very thing I was looking for: a fantastic news story I had only noticed in passing, probably because it ran next to the disturbing photo of the 150 nudes facedown on Delancey Street.

Over the weekend, in fact, police launched a raid on an old Bronx movie house that had been taken over by a cockfighting ring. Using a battering ram to gain entrance to the building, the police caught hundreds of gamblers entirely by surprise–“before the scene turned to bedlam and a chase ensued across the theater’s roof.”

A metro reporter named C.J. Chivers produced this well-written peek inside a strange and unseemly world. “The event was held in a squalid auditorium,” the account goes on, “and was attended by spectators who paid $25 admission to sit under low-hanging fluorescent lights while the birds sliced each other open.”

As the raid progressed, so did a “bizarre episode, with roosters and men running through the building with police in pursuit. The floors were soiled with dog feces, blood and feathers. The odor was rank.”

Eight roosters had already died fighting before the police arrived–but 33 live roosters were seized. Here’s the disturbing rub, though. “Too evil-tempered to be adopted as pets and too tough to eat,” the police said, the birds would be taken to the Center for Animal Care and Control in East Harlem, “where they would be humanely killed.”

It was hard to decide whether it was nicer for the roosters to be killed by big human beings with big needles–or for them to be killed by a fellow rooster. But looking for answers, I turned to to test out the 10-minute guided meditation. An image of Buddha came on the screen and a drowsy voice came out of my laptop speakers. “As a way of arriving in the present,” the voice said, “let go of your body.”

Don’t remember much else, I’m afraid. Except “words of wisdom” from the Dalai Lama came on the screen–isn’t he a little too ubiquitous lately? And I found myself thinking that a Buddhist would take the roosters to a nice home in the country and let them live out the rest of their days, evil-temper or not. What’s so ridiculous about that?