The following is an excerpt from my yet unpublished memoir, “Muckville: Farm Policy, Media and the Strange Oddities of Semi-Rural Life.” This little vignette is about my encounter with an Ukrainian peddler named Boris who might be a vampire and was in great need of large quantities of back fat, from pig.
“Excuse me, do you sell back fat from pig?”
On August 17th, 2010, we were harvesting onions. I was working the big field lift on the yard. My brother was driving the harvester and my dad was out and about for some reason. Between one of the army truck loads of onions, a guy pulls in with a van. He is obviously a produce peddler. I say “obviously” because we deal with these types all the time. They usually sell to small markets and specialty stores and bodegas in NYC. They are of some foreign origin, either Korean or Russian or something else, where you have an extreme difficulty in communicating with them. Universally, they want everything cheap, and they are mostly a pain in the ass.
The guy gets out and he starts to talk to me. I’m too far away to hear at first clearly so I have him repeat what he said. His accent is thick and he sounds Russian. I later learn he is Ukrainian. He sticks out his hand and says “I am Boris” and then asks about onions and butternut squash (he sees a bulk box of squash next to the door.
And then he asks for something I have never been asked for before: “I need 2,000 lbs, every month, of the back fat from the pig.”
Excuse me? That was a new one. I paused for a moment, and without cracking a smile, because he wasn’t, I bit and asked “what for?” He was a little cagey on that detail, and never really gave me an answer. I prodded, “to barbeque?” He laughed and said “no, no, no, you don’t barbeque back fat from pig.” He then kept emphasizing,
in his thick Russian accent he needs lots of back fat … from pig. “And it must be 2, 3 inches thick, you understand?”
I responded with, “dude, I grow onions, not pigs, I really can’t help you there. Did you try the Quaker Creek Store next door?” “Yes, yes, they only have a little, I need 2,000 to 3,000 lbs, every month. And it MUST be 2 to 3 inches thick.” “Of course it must, who the hell thin slices back fat from pig,” I responded with. I had no idea what the hell we were talking about.
He then asked me for some cucumbers and other greens that I don’t grow so I suggest he call my neighbors, Ray and Gary Glowaczewski, who grow all sorts of stuff and sell them at various greenmarkets. I gave Boris their office phone number that he immediately calls on his cell and he starts talking to their mom, Ceil. He doesn’t preface the call with “Hi, my name is Boris and I like to buy produce from you” in his thick Ukrainian accent but instead says this in his thick Russian accent:
“Hello, I want to come visit and speak with you. Tell me where are you? What is your address that I may come visit with you now?”
Their mom was not disclosing anything to Boris. So Boris handed me the phone and I had to tell her that he was a guy interested in produce, and I added “he appears to be harmless.” Boris nodded in agreement. I left out the part about the back fat from the pig. She thanked me and then told Boris where their farm was located at (about a mile down the road).
Before he left we started talking about the back fat again. He repeated that he could move 2,000 pounds a month, easy. I asked. “Is there, like, a back fat holiday season coming up or something?” He looked at me quizzically and then smiled and said, “not really, but you would not like it, you have to start eating the back fat when you are this tall (he held his hand up about 2 feet high) in order to like it.” I didn’t question the veracity of that assertion. He then shook my hand and left to go to the Glowaczewski’s in search of cucumbers and presumably, “back fat from pig.”
But that was not the last that I saw Boris. Later in October my dad and I were working in our barns installing our own insulation in the ceiling. We were elevated by a very unsafe, if not dangerous, in my humble opinion, elevated platform constructed by my dad. It was a series of skids, boards and the like, elevated higher by two forklifts.
I hate heights as it is, I really hated this. We were roughly 16 feet in the air. I hear him pull up and he starts calling out “hellloooo” in the barn, looking for us.
I yell down from my perch “Who is that? Is that you Boris?”
Boris responds, “yes, it is me!” I ask him, “are you still looking for the back fat, 2, 3 inches thick?” He quickly replies, “from pig, yes!”
So I climb down and shake his hand. I tell him, soulfully, that I couldn’t locate any sources for his pig back fat, YET, but I’m working on it. He then asks if we have onions in 10 lb bags and we tell him no, just in 50 lb bags. My dad, always the salesman, then tries to sell him squash. Boris says, “I buy one bag tomorrow, to see what my customers say.”
We then talk about my fear of heights. He talks about some supervisor job he had somewhere in Europe “where he was many feet high” where he was scared at first then no more. I have no problem admitting I’m a wussy.
At this point I whip out my Droid X to take a picture. I tell him, “Boris, I need to take a picture of you and my dad. I always take pictures of my best customers.” I can truthfully say this, because he actually bought a bag of onions. Boris smiles, just a little. But my Droid X camera craps out 3 times!!!!!!! I can’t take his picture!
Frustrated I exclaim, “Boris, I can’t take your picture. Are you a vampire or something?” Boris pauses a brief moment and says, “nah, (short pause) I don’t think so, (another short pause) maybe.”
I thought about asking him if somehow is maybe being a vampire was related to his need for large quantities of back fat from a pig, but I was afraid of experiencing a real life “True Blood” moment and didn’t want to push it. He did mention again the back fat issue and for some reason he thinks I’m the local go to guy to get it. When we exchanged business cards outside he made sure to show me, with his thumb and finger, what a “good, fat 2, 3 inch” looks like, not 1 or a “pretend 2 inch.” I dutifully nod my head, in knowing agreement. We are starting to establish a genuine back fat bond.
If anyone out there reading this has any tips on locating some back fat, from pig, please pass them along. My almost vampire friend Boris from the Ukraine who is no longer afraid of heights would be very appreciative.