Buster, St. Croix’s Beer-Drinking Pig

The author and Jay-Jay, descendent of Buster

The author and Jay-Jay, descendent of Buster

They never found out who killed Buster.

Indeed, there are those who might deny that Buster met a violent end at all, but the woman behind the bar at the Montpellier Domino Club knows better. She doesn’t use the word “killed,” though. The word she uses is “assassinated.”

Such was Buster’s celebrity, as St. Croix’s First Beer Drinking Pig, that the word “killed” is too small to suit his legacy.

“Oh sure, Buster had enemies,” Norma says. The big jovial islander sets a shot glass on the bar and produces an unmarked, unlabeled clear glass bottle half-filled with a red-brown liquor. “People come from all over to see Buster. He was very, very good for business. That maybe didn’t sit right with some people I could name.” She pops a stopper from the bottle and fills the glass. “So you’re on your honeymoon?”

“Yes,” I say. “We got here a few days ago. People have been telling us we have to come out here to see the pigs.”

The Montpellier Domino Club is on the west end of St. Croix, deep in the Caledonia rainforest, a habitat of huge and stupefying beautiful mahogany trees. This being the end of November, a full month before the official start of the tourist season, the Montpellier is empty but for me, Norma, and my wife, who’s taking a picture of a cordoned-off obelisk engraved with the words “In Loving Memory of BUSTER” and a likeness of a pig with a can of beer grasped firmly in its jaws.

“You drink this, it will make you a tiger in the bed, make your wife very happy.” She slid the shot glass over the bar toward me.

“Assassinated, you say?” I lift the shot glass and peer at its contents by the glow of a strand of Christmas lights tacked up across a fringe of thatch over the bar. Then I empty the glass in a single gulp.

“Poisoned. He never died of any old age.”

“Right!” I say. Or attempt to say, because what comes out instead is a hoarse, wounded rasp. Clutching the glass to my chest, I totter back a couple of steps, blinking and wheezing. “Jeepers!” I add. And then, once more, audibly this time, “Jeepers. What is that?”

“Mamajuana!” She makes a gesture which, in some cultures, might be interpreted as sexual in meaning. Her smile is a gleaming white little U in the middle of her broad face. “Pick you right up. Your woman, she’ll thank me.”

My woman has already wandered off into what seems like an acre of empty tables under a big, thatched-roof enclosure at the back of the Domino Club. I’m having trouble seeing that far off, as a new dimness has crept into my field of vision. The night noise of insect life around us, contrarily, seems much louder in my ears.

“You know what the secret is?”

“Secret?” I’m hoping the secret isn’t poison.

She said something unintelligible, a local word of some sort, and then continued, “We collect our own, use it to make the mamajuana. The,” something again unintelligible, “it’s special.”

“You make it yourself? Wow! How about that!” I reach out to the bar, set the shot glass down, and pull a napkin from a dispenser. A sharp, bitter tang, like pine-scented cleaning solvent, is in my nasal passages, and my nose is running. Her secret, whatever it is, is going to be perfectly safe with me. “When did you make this batch?”

She looks at the bottle, considering. “What’s today? Friday?”

“Thursday. It’s Thursday.”

“Oh. Well, then. Eight days. Sharp, is it?”

“A little.”

“We let it mellow out a bit, then. You want a beer for Jay-Jay?”

“Jay-Jay?”

“Jay-Jay! You want to see the pigs, right?”

Yes, I do. I watch as Norma sets a can of O’Douls on the bar and extracts a dollar from the cash I’ve left on the bar.

“Buster drank the real beer, but the pigs now, they drink this, better for their bellies. Buster, oh, they killed him, they surely did.”

I take the non-alcoholic beer from the bar. It’s warm, but I guess that’s not surprising. Why would a pig prefer its beer chilled? Norma leads me over to the stalls that hold two pigs, Jay-Jay and another whose name I’ve forgotten today, twelve long years later.

“You hold it up like this,” Norma says, and she demonstrates how to hold the can up high and horizontally. Jay-Jay is already up and hanging over the stall, his cloven feet scrambling at the stout wooden door, grunting enthusiastically, his black piggy eye rolling at me in profile.

I gingerly hold out the beer toward Jay-Jay.

“Go ahead,” Norma says, “he won’t hurt you. He’s a gentleman.”

And it’s true. Jay-Jay expertly snaps the can out of my hand with his snout, tosses it up an inch or two in the air, and catches it firmly in his jaws. Then he shears the can nearly in half and tilts his head back, inhaling gout after gout of warm, foamy beer. He eyes me as he finishes his beer and then spits the eviscerated can back at me, providing me with the highlight of my honeymoon vacation.

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