DAY 23: A NEW WRINKLE

Egg production was off 33% the previous day, no doubt due to the emotional tumult of the rooster’s recrudescent presence.  The girls were obviously in a state of mild hysteria as the visitor continued his pattern of harassment, twitching his tail feathers and waving his wings in a flurry of fluttering intended to titillate the ladies.  But rather than enflame their passions, his flamboyant neck plumage puffery only served to unnerve them and interfere with their daily work schedule.Rooster-Dance3

After the failed efforts of the first hired gun (see Day Four), I received a tip through social media.  A Facebook friend told me he had a connection that was offering his services as a “fixer”.  Still leery of arrest from shooting firearms inside the city (hypothetically, of course), I was attracted to this new prospect, a bow fisherman.  While my first attempt with this type of weapon system had been a failure, this archer showed more promise.   Not only was he experienced, his arsenal included an adult sized, camouflaged compound bow, equipped with a string line and retrieval reel.  Together with barbed arrow tips, the package was designed to spear and retrieve fish directly from the water.  Such a weapon eliminated the risk of having an impaled chicken running down West Main Street crowing bloody murder, so I told the Facebook friend I was interested and he promised to put the shooter on standby as soon as school was out at 3:30.

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As the day progressed, I began to notice a new development.  Lucy had begun standing closer to the wire mesh protective barrier, and with increasing frequency seemed to make eye contact with the free-ranging Don Juan.  Maybe it was just my imagination, but I could have sworn that her comb and wattle seemed a bit brighter red than usual.

Things had just become a bit more complicated.

The Magic Rooster Returns

Prologue:

Seventeen days had passed since I last saw my arch nemesis.  You may recall that the rooster had taken wing to the west after hypothetically being shot in the neck with a .22 caliber handgun equipped with a suppressor.  In the face of such a lengthy absence, one might naturally assume that he was gone for good.  One would be wrong.

DAY TWENTY-TWO.

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April 9, 2014 began like most mornings.  My wife and I finished our breakfast together, and she left for work a few minutes early.  I can’t say what unknown force drew me to the back patio that morning; perhaps it was simply the fresh feeling of a spring sunrise. Perhaps it was the beauty of newly blooming azaleas. Or maybe I was lured subconsciously to the evil that awaited me a dozen yards away.   Peacefully surveying the colors of April, I sensed some small space-time disturbance behind the chicken coop.  There – through the mesh of the chicken wire – the familiar gesticulation of tail feathers indicated his presence.

The magic rooster had returned.

The Tale of the Magic Chicken

Ladies and gentlemen, the story you are about to hear is true.  It contains no exaggeration or embellishment.

IMG_1848b_filteredDAY ONE.

The magic rooster suddenly appeared on the last day of winter, a beautiful sunny Wednesday morning.  An exquisite and awe-inspiring creature, his presence was a curiosity begging to be photographed and shared with Facebook friends.  The entire day, this beautiful bird strutted in front of the hens’ coop, entertaining them with impressive dance steps, flamboyant neck puffery, and surprisingly masculine clucking sounds.  Lavern, Shirley and Lucy were enthralled and quite flustered, so egg production suffered a bit, but the real problem didn’t occur to us until the time approached for the ladies’ evening stroll.  My wife Heidi would not have her little virgins despoiled by this vagrant gallus; the door would have to remain locked.  Unlike our lap-sitting pet hens, this little banty was standoffish, never allowing us within ten feet of him.  Yet despite his skittishness, he resisted all efforts to chase him away. And so on this warm eve of spring, I lost five points on my wife’s manliness scale, as my first attempt at trapping a bird ended in disgrace.  At sunset, the intriguing fowl disappeared as mysteriously as he had arrived, leaving us to ponder the odds of a repeat appearance.

Day one tactical recap:

  1. General chasing and amateurish cornering attempts.  Unsuccessful due to age and lack of quickness.
  2. Baiting a large dog carrier with chicken feed, then rushing the door upon rooster entry.  Unsuccessful due to the rooster turning and charging out of the carrier back at me.

 

DAY TWO.

On Thursday, our yard guest loudly announced his return at what can only described as an unholy hour, serving to remind us why it is illegal to keep the male of this species within the city limits.   As the sun rose on the first day of spring, I observed that the mysterious visitor was still colorful and majestic, but somehow less photogenic and slightly more ominous.  The girls were growing weary of him, having been cooped up now for more than forty-eight hours straight.  They just wanted to go outside and roll around in the dirt and eat from the compost pile, but the vagrant rooster constantly circled the coupe, leering lewdly and clucking what were no doubt rude comments.  The afternoon included two more capture attempts and ten more manliness points lost.  As I chased the rogue rooster around the house, he trotted into the carport, then behind my wife’s car, and then he was gone.  Vanished into thin air.  My nemesis had taken it to the next level, and I knew what had to be done.  I looked up a number and dialed the phone.  That night, in the shadows of a waning gibbous moon, a man handed me a weapon.  Not a gun, but a true hunter’s weapon: a compound bow and two arrows.

Day two tactical recap: 

  1. Repeat of dog carrier trap, modified with long rope to pull door shut from a distance.  Unsuccessful due to increasing wariness of chicken towards dog carriers.
  2. Throwing a blanket over the rooster.  Unsuccessful due to size 13 feet tripping over blanket.

 

DAY THREE.

Gray skies usher in the third morning.  The cock is crowing again and it’s no longer cute.  Now he taunts me at every turn, mockingly pooping in my yard as I watch helplessly.  In the daylight it becomes apparent that the man had brought me an archery set belonging to his ten year old daughter.  It’s a junior compound bow with two target practice arrows.  Second thoughts crept in about shooting the chicken and I decided to redouble my efforts at trapping.  I determined to make two more attempts that day, drawing on suggestions from Facebook friends and YouTube videos. Fortunately Heidi was not at home to witness the humiliation that followed.

And so it was that at approximately 11:30am on Friday, March 21, 2014, I decided to take up arms against a magic chicken.  Several practice shots at an empty Morton’s salt container convinced me that the bow had sufficient power to penetrate a standard chicken.   I drew back the bow and waited patiently for the petulant poultry to move into position.  Exhaling as I released the string, I saw the arrow fly straight and true, finding its target like a bull’s-eye!  But this was no standard chicken. The missile bounced off of him as though his wings were fashioned from Kevlar. In the words of the great Dave Barry, I’m not making this up.  The animal squawked curses upon me and ran, wings flapping at full speed across the lawn until he reached Spring Valley Road.  He stopped abruptly, LOOKED BOTH WAYS, waited on a car to pass, and then  the magic chicken crossed the road.  He then trotted west across the vacant lot until he was out of sight and did not return for the rest of the day.

Day three tactical recap: 

  1. Upside-down-tub-propped up-with-a-stick-with-a-rope-attached-and bait-underneath. Unsuccessful, due to the chicken looking at the bait, then at me, then clucking something that sounded like “how stupid do you think I am?”
  2. Segregating the girls into the henhouse and allowing the marauder to enter the pen, thereby trapping him.  Unsuccessful. A modicum of human dignity prevents me from elaborating, but I will say that when it was over there was chicken poop on my shirt.
  3. Bow and arrow. Unsuccessful due to improper equipment and armored magic bird wings. 

 

DAY FOUR.

The weekend arrived on day four, and with it came the villainous rooster.  We finished our breakfast, and with a calm reserve I again dialed the phone.   Keeping in mind that shooting firearms within the city limits is illegal, I’ll just say that hypothetically, if an unnamed man owned a hand gun with a suppressor on it, and if he were to come to my house and fire it in my yard, I would never admit it on Facebook.  But suppose, for the sake of discussion, this trained marksman were to hypothetically shoot this chicken in the neck from ten feet away.  Being a magic chicken, he would not die.  Feathers would fly, and so would he.  In fact he would flap his wings and fly like an overweight raven approximately 150 yards through and around the trees in my back yard, over Spring Valley Road, finally spreading his wings and soaring like an eagle to the west across the vacant lot.  He would then casually hop over a brick fence and disappear. Hypothetically, of course.

Day four tactical recap:

  1. Hypothetical silenced pistol.  Unsuccessful. Maybe.

 

EPILOGUE: DAY FIVE.

It is Sunday evening and the magic rooster has not appeared for some thirty-six hours. A peaceful calm has settled over the yard.  The hens are out taking their stroll, scratching up pebbles from the dirt and eating them.  Lucy lifts her head and looks to the west.  Is that a twinkle of sadness I see behind those black eyes?

Nah, there’s nothing in there.

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So Is So Trendy

What I would like to see:

Morning Show Host: Welcome, and thanks for preparing this nutritious beet casserole.  When did you first learn of the health benefits of chenopods?

Trendy Guest: So I started eating beets and chards after my…

Morning Show Host:   STOP.  Why did you begin your response with the word “so”?  It was completely unnecessary. And it seems rude, like you were continuing some previous thought and weren’t even listening to me.

Trendy Guest: Huh?

Morning Show Host:   It’s a coordinating conjunction, for Pete’s sake! It connects two complete, related thoughts, and therefore is not an appropriate way to begin a response.  Why did you do that?

Trendy Guest:   So I guess it’s just a bad habit.

Morning Show Host:   Stop that, or there may be violence.

Trendy Guest:   Okay.  So I…

Morning Show Host:  Get off my TV show.

A Contentious Christmas and a Vitriolic New Year

Happy Holidays!  Yes, I said Happy Holidays, and it felt good.  I also enjoy saying Merry Christmas, Happy Thanksgiving, and Happy New Year.  I’m told that saying Happy Hanukkah brings a smile to the lips of many good folks.  Then there’s the Winter Solstice, Kwanzaa, Bodhi Day, and yes, Chalica and Festivus.  And let’s not forget Black Friday and Cyber Monday, celebrations of appeasement to the lords of retail.

Many Christians are becoming increasingly frustrated that the true meaning of their holiday is being crowded out.  Indeed, some are saying – with ever increasing volume – that there is a veritable WAR on Christmas, a master plan coordinated by  a grand cabal of atheists, big box retailers, socialists, and, well, probably some other bad people.

It seems to me that Jesus’s main message was love.  It also seems to me that if we celebrate a holiday to honor Jesus, we don’t honor him by it by bickering with others about it.  Do we promote peace on Earth with talk of war? Do we show good will towards men by demanding that they greet us on our own terms?

GrinchNever mind that the Bible contains no instruction to set aside a special day celebrating the birth of Jesus.   Never mind that most of our beloved Christmas icons – the tree, the holly and the ivy, the mistletoe, the hanging of lights, even the December date – were co-opted from an amalgamation of Druid pagan solstice rituals, Roman sun festivals, and ancient Jewish observances.  Never mind that early Christians took existing celebrations and superimposed the birth of Christ onto them.  Forget all that.  December belongs to us Christians!

“Happy Holidays” and “Season’s Greetings” are not declarations of war. Non-Christians are regular people who like to give gifts and spread cheer as much as we do, and we accomplish nothing by boycotting businesses like Target for trying to attract shoppers of all faiths.  

I’ll say Merry Christmas, others can use their own greetings, and we can all enjoy the spirit of love and generosity that Jesus taught and lived out.  Or we can choose to be defensive and argumentative and speak of war.  Which is more Christ like?  Christians have legitimate battles to fight, but this is not one of them.

For you, Jesus may be the reason for the season.  But the winter holiday season was not ordained by God; it was created by men.  It has many roots and it has many reasons.   The common thread is that it is a time for merriment, for sharing love and happiness. So fellow Christians, let’s all say Merry Christmas.  But let’s not spoil it by taking the Merry out of it.

There’s a time for war, and a time for peace.  This is a time for peace.

Why I Couldn’t Quit Facebook (and neither should you)

The sabbatical ended early. The plan was to take a vacation from Facebook for the month of November. Why? Facebook guilt. I think it started when my daughter said she doesn’t read all my Facebook posts because I post too much. So I began to feel self-conscious. Didn’t want to be that guy. The over-poster. The poor guy who, having no life in the real world, spends all his time on Facebook, sharing his navel lint with hundreds of quasi-friends. I wouldn’t want people to think I’m a narcissistic loser.

I also told myself I was tired of the negativity. Political debates with my Facebook friends tend to get me all worked up and have me shouting at a laptop. Why subject myself to unnecessary stress? Then there’s the time I waste reading pointless comments from people I barely know, “liking” various internet memes, and clicking on links to cat videos. I should be more productive! Get out from behind that computer and get a real life! I can stop any time I want! Just watch me!

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So it’s been two weeks. I had expected to discover a newfound productivity. By now I should be enjoying fulfillment living in reality. Calm. Peace of mind. Freedom from the addiction of the all-consuming evil that is Facebook. But that’s not what I discovered. Instead, I discovered that I miss my friends.

Facebook is not separate from “the real world”. My Facebook friends are real people, living real lives. They have real feelings, real opinions, and real emotions to share. Just because our conversations are typed on a screen and not spoken face to face does not mean they are any less genuine. Some go overboard with the sharing, some are overly dramatic, some say mean things, and some display lack of judgment and/or basic intelligence. But you know what? That’s life. Go to work, or Walmart, or church, or wherever you go in “real” life, and you’ll find the same thing.

In primitive societies, people rarely came into contact with others beyond walking distance. As technology advanced, boats, automobiles, and airplanes shrunk the world and allowed cultures to mingle, and human knowledge and understanding grew as a result. Radio and television allowed us to experience the whole world without leaving home, and humanity advanced even further. Now the internet brings human interaction to a whole new level, one unimagined a generation ago. We now hang out with people based on common interests and values, no longer limited by geographic proximity. We connect with old friends, make new friends, share our values, and discuss important issues. We celebrate together and we mourn together. We keep up with family and get to see photos of our precious far-removed loved ones.

So today I asked myself why I needed a vacation from Facebook. Why arbitrarily remove myself from my friends as though they were a bad habit? I could think of no reason. Sure, we all need a little vacation from our regular surroundings once in a while. But two weeks was plenty, and I’m glad to be back.

So… what did I miss?

Obamacare’s Most Sinister Unintended Consequence

Undoubtedly there will be myriad unintended consequences to the law known as the Affordable Care Act.  But in the long run, one of the most subtle could turn out to be one of the most damaging.

We’ve set up a law that requires people to buy insurance. If they refuse, they are not charged with a misdemeanor or a felony or anything requiring them to stop breaking the law. Just pay a fine, and it’s okay. You can flaunt the law, pay a minimal fine year after year, and there will never be a reckoning. Never an arrest warrant. No real consequences.

This teaches a terrible lesson to our citizenry – that there’s nothing right or wrong about breaking the rules; that choosing whether or not to follow the law is simply a matter of weighing one’s financial options and making a choice. The concept of the rule of law becomes further diminished.

Later we’ll wonder why our kids think it’s okay to cheat as long as the benefits outweigh the consequences.

Is Your Indecision Final?

Decision RiskThe whole family was stunned. Little Bobby had just slapped his mother across the face, right in front of everyone. The act was violent, and clearly violated established household rules.

“That’s it, you’re getting a spanking!” exclaimed dad.

“No wait,” said mom. “We can’t stop violence with violence. Maybe we should just ground him.”

Dad wondered if maybe she was right, and called in the other children for advice. Bobby’s older sister said justice required that Bobby receive a slap in the face (and volunteered to administer it). Fearing precedent, two younger siblings all voted for no punishment whatsoever. Bobby’s twin brother Billy claimed Bobby had not slapped anyone at all, and threatened to slap the whole family if they punished Bobby.

Meanwhile, little Bobby watched.

With no consensus, mom and dad decided to sleep on it. The next day, discussions resumed and the neighbors were called in. The Jones family thought it was none of their business, the Smiths called for serious punishment, and the Millers threatened the Smiths.

One week later – after taking a telephone poll of the community – the parents finally made a decision. So what did they decide, and what was the result? It doesn’t matter. Bobby is still a brat, the other children don’t respect their parents, all the neighbors are angry at one another, and the whole town is confused.

Sometimes, there is no good response to a crisis. Sometimes a consensus can’t be reached. In such situations a good leader gets the best available information, considers advice from both sides, weighs the options, and takes decisive action. A good leader can handle criticism from opponents, and will take responsibility the consequences. A poor leader hates criticism and deflects blame. A poor leader equivocates, sends mixed signals, stalls for time, and looks for political cover.

The world is a messy place. We could use some leadership.

 

The Myth of the Level Playing Field

Chamberlain Elementary School circa 1971 had a wonderfully bumpy playground.  Responding to the recess bell meant running full speed down the giant hill to monkey bars nestled beneath massive trees that shaded us from the sun and caused dirt to grow instead of grass.  Rain runoff had created crevices in the earth and made tripping hazards of exposed tree roots, causing countless falls and eternal springs back up again.  God’s natural landscape was our field of dreams; blue jean knee patches and elbow Band-aids our badges of honor.

To this skinny little libertarian, the magnificent unevenness of the playground represented pure freedom.  The rugged individualism of running, jumping, climbing, balancing, and swinging  presented far greater opportunity than did organized team sports.  The adventure of exploring, of finding the edges, of not knowing the limits, this was the stuff of growing up.

Kickball-2Each day at some appointed time, Ms. Johnson would blow her shrill silver whistle, and with a shout or a sigh we would fall in line to be chosen for the level playing field.  Stress always ensued as some were picked first and others of us last, team leaders tight-rope walking the line between competition and compassion.  The unmistakable elastic twang of the big red kickball would ring out amid shouts of exclamation, confrontation, and lamentation as we all tried to prove to ourselves and our peers that we were winners.  As grade school tempers inevitably flared, they were just as quickly stifled by Ms. Johnson’s whistle.  Shouts became murmurs, dirt was kicked, and passions quickly subsided as man-made rules of order were enforced.  Eventually one team or the other would win, the results absent from any historical record.

Of course, games with rules are good things. They prepare kids for life in a society built on the rule of law.  They cultivate healthy competition and they teach discipline, teamwork and a sense of fair play.  But fairness is elusive.  The field rarely seems level.

Kickball, like life, was never fair.  Kelly Osburn could run faster than me, Billy Bob Fergerson could throw better than me, and Floyd Starling could kick the ball further than anybody (legend has it that he once kicked a ball all the way up the hill and onto the roof).  Some children were blessed with natural athletic talent, and some were not.  Some had intact, happy homes; some did not.  Some could afford nice clothes; others were obviously poor.  The point?  None of this was relevant to the rules of kickball.  The rules of the game are blind to the individual’s natural talent or socioeconomic status. A flat piece of ground can never even out the distribution of talent.  No playing surface will ever ease the pain of poverty or soften the sorrows of an unhappy childhood.  Nor should it.

Justice, like rules, must be blind in order to be fair.  Fairness does not dictate that life’s advantages should be somehow eliminated.  Leveling the field does not mean tilting it against those who started with a leg up.  Doing so does not help the less fortunate; it harms them.  It harms them by robbing them of the character-building experience of defeat. It harms them by depriving them of the joy of working harder to overcome the challenges, beat the odds and win. It leads them down a primrose path to disappointment instead of allowing a dose of reality to guide them in a direction more in line with their true talents.  Had I not been given the opportunity to be chosen last at kickball, I would never have known that reality existed in the world of sport, or in the game of life.  I would never have searched out and found the unique talents that defined and developed the adult I was to become.

Life’s playground is often bumpy.  Rather than teach our kids that they always deserve a level playing field, maybe we should teach them to embrace the ups and downs of a not-so level life.