The following account has been formatted to fit the screens of Pullet-zer judges.* While the basic story line is true, it has been salted with adjectives, adverbs, and the newly fashionable “alternative facts” much like a hot dog is embellished with chow-chow for improved flavor and interest despite whatever taste the meat may actually have.
Setting: A sultry summer’s night in northern Kentucky inside an even sultrier old barn, a dilapidated section of which is devoted to chicken housing.
Primary Characters: 1) Me, a recruited participant with severe misgivings about the entire proceedings; 2) the owner of the seventeen feathery members of the barn’s resident chicken flock, an 88 year old Matriarch given to instant declarations of impending doom on any topic; 3) a self-proclaimed Chicken Whisperer whose position is under no threat of displacement by any of the locals; 4) the attractive daughter of the aforementioned Matriarch whose presence is a combined result of outright bribery and hornswoggling coupled with threats of disinheritance.
Having been raised in country life, I have been in proximity to chickens almost all of my years. Thus, I am reasonably familiar with those feathered creatures including their diverse, individual personalities along with their inclinations to defecate whenever and wherever the urge for them to do so occurs. Early on, most farm kids develop a barnyard version of hopscotch in order to avoid the erratic patterns of carpet bombing that are released in those pastoral settings.
Getting back to chickens specifically, most folks are not aware that those descendants of the dinosaur have an opening at their back-end known as the “vent”. This orifice provides a dual-purpose avenue for both defecation along with a path for egg passage as those hen fruit exit their bodies. (Note: This fact may dampen the usual enthusiasm for egg collecting in situ.)
At the risk of being overly graphic, any animal with an excess of feathers or fur around its anal area is in some danger of having poo collect on said growth. For chickens, this situation seems a bit more problematic when freezing weather sets in as excrement tends to stick more readily to those close surroundings. Fast forward to several days of freezing, and chicken owners may have a conglomeration of sticky poo along with a possible disease situation. Allowed to go untreated this condition can prosper (?) into the summer months.
Now, Dear Reader, enters the all-knowing local Chicken Whisperer with a (complex) solution. “First, we’ll wait until dark when they’re on the roost. Then we’ll use a flashlight and grab ‘em one by one while another person holds the captured hen upside down. I’ll remove the offending dirty feathers, and you, Ms. Matriarch, will soothe the exposed flesh with a dab of Petroleum Jelly.” Due to my height, I was to act as searchlight and provide operating illumination.
Now, for those of you who have been involved in complex military operations such as combat, it is well known that things go awry readily (and very quickly). No less is true in the human endeavor for clearing poultry anatomies of excrement. The primary consideration in this honorable task is that the chicken has absolutely no appreciation for the fact its butt is being cleaned. In no small part, this is due to the fact that the struggling bird needs to be held firmly and carefully UPSIDE DOWN while the above noted activities are performed. Thus, chicken cooperation would prove to be sorely lacking not unlike the time several years earlier I helped convert young bulls into steers by removing their testicles.
So, with the scene and circumstances hopefully made clear to you, Dear Reader, here is what transpired: along with a flashlight, scissors, and grim determination, four of us entered the old barn at dusk and shut the door. (For the record, I’d like to say that I happened to notice that the latch on the outside of said barn portal fell into place upon closing. To avoid immediate panic, I elected to keep that information to myself. I hoped that the impending activities would allow my brain enough time to come up with a satisfactory escape plan.)
At this point, it is necessary to remind the Reader that this was a SULTRY summer evening with high humidity and no breeze. Combine those conditions with the only exit route tightly shut and one can accurately envision the rapidly developing claustrophobia and sweating amongst all participants.
However, the bugle had sounded, the banner was raised and the drummer gave momentum to our efforts (metaphorically speaking of course!) I directed the flashlight as it did double duty selecting a victim who soon was upside down in the grip of human hands and then with its private area exposed in the glare of same light. Without cutting flesh, the Chicken Whisperer deftly trimmed several of the hapless fowl and then called for the soothing Vaseline before getting too far down the flock.
My secret of the latched door was then exposed as I was forced to divulge that fact amongst the dusty swirl of chicken feathers and other unimaginable barely-visible-to-the-eye-motes. This news melted sweaty brows and realization into a sickening pool of awareness.
In an effort to quell the swelling angst, I admitted in a weak, dispassionate voice, “The Vaseline is outside and the door latch is locked.” The Matriarch, already far removed from having any fun, proclaimed her burgeoning discomfort and replied with a smidgen of panic, “I’m gettin’ too hot!” quickly followed by “I’ve got my phone and I’ll call the neighbor!”
Here Dear Reader, it’s critical to inject that I was a lone male stuck in a hot chicken house with three other women. In of itself, this is not overly disastrous, but the neighbor in mention is a deft smart aleck who would certainly embellish my predicament and gleefully spread the news to all the locals faster than quick-setting concrete can harden. In short, he thrived on catching others with their pants down.
Despite my personal anxiety and perspiration, I attempted a sane and rather calm diplomatic maneuver. “Hell no, we don’t need to be doing that!” my voice at a yelling 88 decibels. It didn’t take very long to recognize that my comment for de-fusing the situation was void of results except to fan the flames of anxiety.
Handing off the flashlight to the daughter, I pleaded for a section of string or wire while the Matriarch’s concerns rapidly escalated towards hysteria as she fumbled to dial the neighbor’s number. In the meantime the non-perplexed Chicken Whisperer calmly sat on a chicken shit covered perch to await an outcome. (Just in case you’re ever in need of a Chicken Whisperer, equanimity along with a shoulder full of feathers, is a hallmark characteristic of a really exceptional one.)
The daughter of the Matriarch, previously assigned hen-holding duty, hustled about with the flashlight, one upside down hen in the crook of her arm (which would soon thereafter collapse and die), looking for string/wire/loose boards in order to effect an escape. The situation, having overwhelmed any dam of patience, deteriorated into desperation. The Matriarch floated expletives into the mix of feathers and motes with the same fervor Stonewall Jackson did when he realized he had been mortally wounded by his own men.
Me, I’m crouched at the door attempting to slip a noose of string through a gap between the boards and snag the latch. With a geometric progression, heat, anxiety, and my fear of being found out progressed faster than an avalanche of boulders along the nearby steep sided highway.
Finally, I was able to snag the latch and open the heavy wooden barrier. Shouts of Halleluiah rushed out of the open door while cool air surged in. In relief, I bent forward on one hand and knee ignoring the soupy mix of chicken feed, poop, and mud that engulfed my fingers and dampened my jeans.
But I was too late. Though I may have prevented suffocation along with disrobing, the Matriarch had made contact with the neighbor who showed up a bit too quickly for my preferences. Along with a fistful of tools at the ready, the smirk on his face confirmed my soon-to-be embellished incompetence of how I spent a hot summer’s evening with three females in a chicken house. Although there hadn’t been any real doubt previously, I now would never be able to run for elected office in Bullet County, Kentucky.
In the blue-black gloaming, unperturbed chickens and their posteriors re-grouped on their respective roosts maintaining their well-established pecking order. Wandering listlessly into the dark, grassy yard now heavy with dew, I watched the final glimpses of twilight with weary eyes as a distant Barred Owl garbled a monkey like call in its typical mocking manner. I wanted a white flag of surrender and a cool shower, in that order.
Another lesson one learns early on in the country is that humor is most often garnered at someone else’s expense. That knowledge dovetails with the fact that some events you can never live down no matter how well you deal with crap . . .
*Warning! This has only been released to the Pullet-zer Prize Judges. If you are not a feathered member of this august body, you should not be reading this piece of dung!