Friday, May 23, 2008

A Few Notes on Pressure....

I would like to thank Kenji for helping me uncover these memories from my former life as a competitive guinea pig breeder. And no, this isn't entirely historically accurate -- some names were changed, some facts were bent. There are people out there (namely my mother) who remember this event, and could call me out if they choose to. However, the spirit of the story is (hopefully) spot on.
You want to know about pressure? I'll tell you about pressure; the obscure yet highly competitive world of guinea pig breeding and showing is filled with pressure. Let me paint you a picture: imagine a show table, a waist-high, carpeted table with a long row of small cages along the outer edge. Inside each cage sits a guinea pig, the best-of-breed (BOB) winners from the previous rounds of showing. These animals already have proven themselves to be remarkable specimens -- they are already winners, yet only one of them will take home the ultimate prize: best-in-show (BOS). On one side of the table, four or five judges nervously pace, examining the competitors with the stern faces of battleship captains. On the other, the audience watches the proceedings with an almost religious silence. The cavernous fairground warehouse is silent, save a few click-click-clicks from guinea pigs chewing on the metal wire of their cages; the nerves of a rodent can fray too.

I’m sweating. This is the 1993 ACBA* national convention, the biggest show in the country. My satin-Abyssinian boar, Mr. Mistoffelees, won his breed by a healthy margin, and is on the table with the rest of the nation’s best. He’s a beautiful strawberry roan with excellent sheen, nice boxy shoulders and a Robert Spitzer** nose. His rosettes are nearly perfect, except for a little guttering on his rump, and one doubled rosette on his left shoulder***. Like I said, nearly perfect.

Dr. Clifford Boyle is the head judge presiding over the final round of the show. An anesthesiologist by profession, Dr. Boyle's true passion becomes clear the moment he dons his judge's coat****: he's a guinea pig man through and through. Known for his strict adherence to the ACBA Standard of Perfection (he was an associate editor after all), Dr. Boyle is known for being both extremely fair, and extremely critical. After a quick sweeping survey of the field of competitors, Dr. Boyle began his evaluation in earnest. Some judges give running commentary on what’s going through their minds while they judge. Others (the better ones) save all their remarks until their decisions have been made. Dr. Boyle is one of the best; the silence is unbearable, the suspense is sublime.

He reaches Mr. Mistoffelees and removes the tiny rodent from the show cage. As he did so, I could swear I saw his eyes light up -- was it the smoothness of Mr.'s coat? Was it that Mr. is an unusually large and well proportioned Guinea Pig? Or was that glimmer in his eyes a reaction to something distasteful? He moistens his fingers with saliva and begins to adjust Mr.’s rosettes. Overwhelmed, I get up and leave the room. I return once Dr. Boyle has moved on the next animal, a gorgeous tortoise-shell and white teddy.

Having watched Dr. Boyle judge shows before, I knew that he often returns to those that are in contention for the win, evaluating the same guinea pig as many as five or six times. After forty-five minutes of judging, he appears to have narrowed it down to three animals: Mr. Mistoffelees, Cheerieo (an American golden-agouti sow), and none other than Robert Spitzer's Numare (a highly decorated chocolate silkie boar). With a furrowed brow, the judge puts Mr. back in his cage for the last time. My fingers are crossed, my heart is racing. He lets out a huge sigh, then draws in a lungful of air, before looking out at the audience for the first time in over an hour. “I want to thank you all for coming. This has been the most difficult National Convention to judge in years,” he says.

I know what pressure is.

*American Cavy Breeders Association. Guinea pigs are properly known as cavies (rhymes with navy), but I shall continue using layman's terms so I don't confuse all you laymen.
**Robert Spitzer, one of the best breeders in the business, was rumored to have more space in his house devoted to his caviary than his own living quarters. He was known for being a reclusive, secretive man, and a fierce competitor. Spitzer specialized in the long haired breeds (mainly silkies and a few Peruvians), but he dabbles in Abyssinians, thus making him my competitor at times. Mr. Mistoffelees was sired by one of his animals, and carries a distinctive nose that is considered very desirable. Mr. Mistoffelees won his breed, much to Robert’s dismay. His own Pandora won Best-Opposite-Sex-of-Breed (BOSB).
***Guinea pig breeding is an honorable activity. It would have been easy to pluck out the hairs in his double rosette, making it look clean and precise. But this isn’t what his genetics dictated, and thus, not what he should be judged on*.
****Embroidered "Dr. Cliff" above the ACBA crest

*Compare this to the spineless world of dog breeding where some dogs get their teeth bleached, their hair dyed, or even plastic surgery to compensate for the ineptitude off the breeders. There is no honor in dog breeding.


colin said...

you no-good, gentle-fingered, kibble-doling, fur-brushing, esoteric son of a bitch cliffhanger!

vannablog said...

... meanwhile! Vanessa is off in her own little world at the shows having a boo-haa-hicky good time and relatively clueless as to the seriousness of the matter... and I can probably say the same for chess meets.
(-And Dungeons & Dragons for that matter.)

Ah, good ol' little sisters. Right?

Perhaps a Parrot said...

Why you gotta bring that up? Huh? FIRST OF ALL, YOU LOVED D&D AND YOU KNOW IT. Second, chess meets were undeniably lame, so yeah...

K-Man said...


LAV said...

I can attest to sam's prowess on a chess board.

I don't know about D&D though.