Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

BY ROBERT FROST

Whose woods these are I think I know.  
His house is in the village though;  
He will not see me stopping here  
To watch his woods fill up with snow.  

My little horse must think it queer  
To stop without a farmhouse near  
Between the woods and frozen lake  
The darkest evening of the year.  

He gives his harness bells a shake  
To ask if there is some mistake.  
The only other sound’s the sweep  
Of easy wind and downy flake.  

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.  
But I have promises to keep,  
And miles to go before I sleep,  
And miles to go before I sleep.
______________________

My mind lives in those woods....

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Other Things To Sleep With.

The scenario: Right side of queen-size bed, now vacated by spouse.
bed/storage space
Recently discovered storage space.

Replacements for breathing human being:
  • All blankets/sheets not currently employed
  • 900 page hardcover book I've lost interest in
  • Empty ice cream bowl
  • Laundry, not yet sorted/put away
  • Hammer, still unhung wall picture/clothes peg
  • DVD too lazy to put in player
  • Unread mail/flyers/brochures
  • Glasses, keys, cellphone, wallet, loose change, gum wrappers, other contents of pants pockets
  • Unrealistic To Do list for tomorrow (excerpt: Find new career)
  • Dog...forget it, pal. GET DOWN! Down! Down!
  • Pillows in various shapes and sizes
  • TV remote control to knock off bed while asleep, sending batteries flying

Saturday, August 24, 2013

My Dog Gazes Not Upon The Moon.

My dog gazes not upon the moon
For Blanca...
My dog gazes not upon the moon,
Nor remembers when you left in June.
He pull-pull-pulls and sniffs and pees,
Lifting bandied leg for a merry wee.

Yet we walk as two, we do,
Seeking the trees, thinking of thee.
Abroad, likewise with no thought,
Of Gaia's light, tranquil summer night.

Hi ho! Goes us, Coco and me,
Anointing trash cans, scratching fleas.
Turn up noses to all the roses,
Feeling queer after all our beer.

Damn you, moon! I snap the chain,
Canine tarry, dreams of Spain.
Merely foolish glow, no telepathic spark,
Linking father's gaze, or little dog bark.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

10 Reasons Why I Cannot Renovate A Basement Apartment.

Home repairsMy house in the Bronx currently hosts a ruined basement apartment. The basic plumbing and heat are functional, but everything else--and I mean everything--needs to be ripped out and replaced. Antiquated wiring, cracked plaster walls and ceilings, ancient water damage, mold, along with a total lack of insulation...all beg for a complete tear down. Looked in the Penny Saver, called a contractor...figured I'd start with the bathroom. No problem, said he: $7,000.  Can complete the job in two weeks. I don't make seven grand in two weeks, tell you that...

I have tools...how complicated could it be to do it myself? What if I studiously watch a few This Old House videos and dive in, hands first? My propensity to screw things up is enormous, though. A project typically starts well, until a huge tear appears in the space time continuum; everything subsequently goes straight to hell. All labor and materials get sucked into the great black hole that encompasses my basic incompetence, lack of motor coordination, and paucity of common sense.

Harking back on my Mr. Fix It alter ego throughout the years, I painstakingly quantified each and every blunder. The results are staggering:

1. Bent nails, stripped nuts/bolts/screws: 2,391
I blame my dad. He bought all his rusting, misshapen tools at tag sales. Since he was always working, I was left to my own devices when faced with an implacable quandary--like a flat tire on my bicycle. The quarter inch locking nut has always been my nemesis...axle nut on my bike, oil pan guardian on my beloved Toyota Corona...I prefer to strip them with adjustable pliers, then fall back on a fail-safe combo: locking pliers and a lead pipe for leverage--instantly guaranteeing destruction of any hexagonally-sexed object.

2. Pounds of superfluous/spilled cement: 1,875. Sacks of cement left out in rain: 14
A good friend clued me in to the mystical properties of cement. He spoke in hushed terms of  "the throw"--a carefully selected dollop of wet cement tossed from a trowel into a waiting crevice. Performed with proper aplomb, the cement sticks, fills and spreads, without further manipulation. 20 years later, I'm still waiting for a successful 'throw.' My typical diaspora:
throw/miss
throw/near miss
throw/hit! slowly ooze out again
throw/miss
Repeat.

3. Snapped jigsaw/hacksaw blades, ruined/broken drillbits: 136
drill bit mishap
Misfired bazooka, or drill hole? You decide...
I call this the never-learned lesson of the Smoking Drillbit. While attempting to hang the wife's newly acquired painting that you secretly hate, you randomly drill into the wall, and hit something hard. What the hell could that be? No worries...switch to the masonry bit, dial up the drill speed to maximum...the macho 'hammer' setting. Still not penetrating? Lean on that sucker, put some weight behind it, you little girly-man...Whammo! You bust through whatever interference was present, puncturing a hole in the wall the size of a cannonball. Congratulations, Hercules...

4. Crooked cuts and mismeasures, circular saw/jigsaw: 96
A good carpenter measures twice..correctly. And riddle me this--why own a proper workbench, when you can use the top of your washing machine in the basement? A further admission: I own electric saws; they scare the hell out of me. The rpms and roar from a circular saw rival a Ferrari, while jigsaws possess that strangely frantic, to and fro motion--similar to a dog humping your leg. No thanks...

5. Articles of clothing ruined while performing manual labor: 63
Yes, I own work clothes and shoes, specifically for wear on dirty jobs. They lie catatonically in my bottom dresser drawer, patiently awaiting paint splatter and spackle. Unfortunately, I'm never wearing them when I arrive home from work, to discover the screen door/toilet/dishwasher magically broken, sans culprit. Well, gosh darn it, that can't wait another minute. Lemme grab my toolbox... 
Juiced
I'm smokin'...

6. Broken/busted wooden handles and grips on axes, trowels, screwdrivers, etc: 45
Muddled mottos, #17: "Any tool can be used as a hammer, especially when you can't find one."

7. Blown/tripped fuses, near-electrocutions: 33
Yup...today's the day I replace the old outlets with three-prongs. But wait...The kids are playing video games/watching tv/microwaving popcorn, I can't possibly turn off the juice...I'll just be careful. Sure. Nothing like 120 volts coursing through your body to make you feel alive. I've been shocked so many times, light bulbs glow before I touch them. Let's not forget the thrill of crossing live wires, hearing that loud POP! and being temporarily blinded--think flash powder, Abe Lincoln era photo. Now both my lights and the house lights are out. Sorry, kiddies...

8. Kicked over/spilled gallons of paint, thinner, other extremely corrosive liquids: 16
I really make a point of being neat. The trick is to follow a carefully executed series of steps:
--Lay down drop cloth (usually an old fitted sheet)
--Place paint tray on stepladder shelf
--Climb ladder
--Paint with roller until arm's length reached
--Climb down ladder
--Move ladder, catching leg on fitted sheet
--Tip over paint tray, spill semi gloss everywhere.

9. Burnt out battery packs/tool chargers: 8
That new DeWalt/Mikita tool is on sale for only $50, what a deal...when you forget to unplug it six months later, the $42 replacement battery will be on sale --when shop vacs can fly.

10. Injuries suffered while employing tools, requiring emergency room visits: 6
I've chainsawed my hand, bonked myself on the head with steel pipes, hacked into my thumb with a meat cleaver, blowtorched my fingers, fallen off ladders and roofs, sawz-alled my leg...you can read more about my injury-prone life here.

So who do I write this check out to?

Friday, August 16, 2013

Saran Wrap Lobster

Could he breathe in there?
When I'm out galavanting, trying to make money--namely, doing field work--one of my can't-miss procrastination techniques is to stop at the supermarket.

With the sudden realization that a terrorist attack/natural disaster can occur at any time, there is simply no alternative to an emergency stop to purchase bare necessities like peaches, hand soap, English muffins and more canned tuna. Yesterday I was on Bruckner Boulevard; a huge discount supermarket resides on the service road. A penned off area in front of the store prevents shopping cart theft, with a security guard booth manned 24/7 as well. Sort of a paradox, since paying the security guards is probably more expensive than replacing a  few nicked shopping carts, but who am I to say...

The premium quality canned tuna was not on sale, but the store had live, 'wild caught' lobster at five bucks a pound. I love lobster--better stated, I adore lobster. Not only were they cheap, they were a fairly good size--close to a pound and a half on average. After getting the attention of a fish monger, I picked out an especially large, lively specimen busily clamoring over other more lethargic compatriots.

I used to be a fish monger myself, working in the supermarket near my university. The workers in the deli section teased me, claiming they ate free cold cuts while I labored with smelly fish guts. I never said a word in reply, and for good reason: I ate like a king there. My department had a walk in freezer; it was one of the few areas out of sight of the store manager. There was also a professional steamer and a toaster oven, for some unknown reason. I never stole anything from the store, but felt that whatever I could eat while on duty was fair game. Large sea scallops and breaded oysters were a favorite out of the toaster oven; two pound lobsters were summarily tossed into the steamer. 10 minutes later I'd retire to the freezer to wolf down my prize. Customers would be calling from the counter; I'd emerge with mouth still full, butter dripping down my chin.  Should've just opened a mini restaurant on the spot...

Coming to a theater near you: Killer Trout.
Women would request freshly butchered trout from the large fish tank, then retire to another part of the store while I did the evil deed. I'd knock them out with a large mallet, chop their heads off and clean them. Sometimes they'd still be quivering while I wrapped them up. One night I dreamt that our shower at home filled up with water, and was soon teeming with live trouts that had teeth like piranha, nipping at my legs.

I used to place the live lobsters in paper bags, but yesterday this employee folded the tail under the chest cavity, laid the beast on a styrofoam tray, and ran him under a stretch-wrap machine, slapping the UPC label on top. Now the lobster couldn't budge an inch, or get any air.

The carnivore's hypocritical conundrum had raised i'ts ugly head: I had every intention of boiling this creature alive, then literally ripping him lip from limb for my greedy consumption...yet I was concerned he might be suffering in this styrofoam wrapper. What had I done?

There were still a few stops to make for my work assignment, but I kept thinking about the severely constrained crustacea in my trunk. Was it possible for a lobster to get a charlie horse? As a fellow long-legged creature who had flown coach his entire life, I knew the agony of prolonged constricture.

I arrived home and anxiously freed the lobster from his mummified plastic enclosure. Small bubbles were gurgling from his mouth; a few legs tentatively flexed. I grabbed a butcher knife and plunged it into the gap between carapice and head, killing the creature instantly.

While Mr. Lobster sat steaming on my stove, I melted some butter and lemon, reflecting on my cold, depraved existence. I had taken another small step forward towards my inevitable Karmic undoing, staring into the murderous, bloody abyss of my own carnal cravings.

I retrieved the now pink lobster from its pot, placed it on a large plate, and cracked open the larger of the two claws. Taking that first sumptuous bite, I arrived at a comforting, overly-simplistic conclusion: something that tastes so heavenly cannot possibly send me to the depths of hell. Bon Apetit!


Tuesday, August 6, 2013

No Reply...

HTML Goddess:

Don’t feed the bear…you’ll only encourage him. 

Sometimes I’m confused/amazed when women who obviously have a gift or talent for the written word, deign not to reply…many times the idea of a date is secondary to me (although my testosterone would beg to differ). It’s simply nice to make a connection.

Perhaps to satisfy my straining ego…was she entertained? Confused? Did she think I was clever? Sophomoric? Eccentric or crazy?

online dating I once wrote several hundred words to a woman who mentioned three different times in her profile that she was allergic to garlic. I described a potential first date at a restaurant, whereby I continually ordered clove-heavy plates like shrimp scampi and broccoli rabe, meanwhile adding asides and trivialities, like staining my polo shirt with pistachio spumoni…I closed by asking if she would have an osmotic reaction to the garlic I consumed if we were to kiss later on. It was intentionally ludicrous and over the top; she never replied. I had no real interest in her, but would’ve loved to be the proverbial fly on the wall when she read it…is that obtuse/insulting/insensitive of me?
It just begged for some sort of commentary.

Sacred geometry?
Alas (alack) I paid you not one compliment, which a proper gentleman would do. I could’ve commented on your full mouth and comely smile, or your raven hair (cliché alert), framing such a beautiful face. Perhaps mention the baubles (pearls?) which grace your neck in silverprint #8. I could’ve established more commonality—e.g., an aversion to the cold and Cleveland—or shared my interest concerning the energetic, pyramidal force of canned goods on Arthur Avenue.

I learned this lesson recently, when I wrote to a beautiful painter. I feigned shock, demanding to know why she chose to live in my Godless borough (painters usually live in Brooklyn), asking facetiously if she had a strange obsession with 99 cent stores and habichuelas. There was no reply…I revisited the tone and intent of my letter and wrote for a second time--something I’d never done before. Specifically, I apologized for my unbecoming familiarity, my curtness. I commented on her beauty and considerable talent (I did like the paintings she posted). Within an hour she replied, with some humorous comments and questions of her own. Funny, that…

Apart from my wife, I am not entirely divorced from other realities. Reasons to be Ian Dury/ignored:

--An aesthetic preference is to be expected; some women (perhaps many) wouldn’t find me attractive. I get that…
--For all the wherewithal and mental, allegorical or transcendental gymnastics, I am still lawfully married--bound to another, harking back to those fervent vows, oh so long ago…
--I am 50 fucking years old. I still have trouble accepting it--yet the number won’t back down or blink, no matter how much I threaten to beat the piss out of it. 50 remains there, staring at me with a bored, cold detachment. 50 possesses no overt malice—it simply adds lines to my weathered face at will, taking its pound of flesh literally and figuratively, resolutely plucking words, ideas and hair from a once nimble mind/scalp--much like drawing thin straws out of a flimsy cardboard box. I still leap and caper with spryness in my dreams, but the corporal reality lags further and further behind. Don’t get old, sez me mum…
--I have offspring/children/fledglings. They require attention/time, diligence, money and innumerable sacrifices.
graffiti--I live in the uncoolest borough, perhaps the unkindest cut of all.

However, I still ask you (rhetorically and on this single occasion—no need for a creep alert): are sparing words a distraction from your literary endeavor, so precious they cannot be spared or tossed before swine?

On another note/tangent/wafer-thin sphere of existence: why (oh, why) can I write streams of prose about the vagaries of life, love, aging and existence to a complete stranger, but when I turn my attention/antenna to gathering/collecting thoughts concerning a particular vein/theme, there are none to be found?

Although…what I’ve jotted/typed here is not totally without merit…perhaps Lucifer’s seal has been broken, the blockage has been cleared, the doors have reopened to the public (Hurry! These prices won’t last), the miasma/mental goop has melted away, and I can, indeed, write again. We shall see (said he, muttering and patting his pockets, for some unknown reason).

And there (here?) it is (‘tis?): Another ‘thing’ written and oddly finished, spit (spat?) into the cyber-wind, clinging/adhering/sticking to the digital underbelly of another's OKC epidermis--to be scraped, scrubbed and excised into the nether-hells of dubious anonymity.

Cheers, my dear Goddess…

Chuck Steak

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Africans in The Hippie House.

Our house in Mallorca went by many different names: Ca'an Descombros or Sa Cosa Nova, for reasons described here. Mayan calendar devotees who camped in our backyard for the Day Out of Time called it Temple 13. Other folks dubbed it the Hippie House, due to the various people we let live, conduct classes or throw parties there before we renovated. With a huge open entrada originally meant for a horse and carriage, a big terrace out back, no nice furniture (or nice anything), and plenty of privacy, it was a great spot for either a quiet group meditation or raucous New Year's Eve party. At one point we had two Muslim Moroccans living there (one devout, the other decidedly not), a homeless woman from Barcelona, and two Nigerians. The most interesting  interlopers though, were the Nigerians.
Bona lots
One big happy family.

Africans and Moroccans were emigrating to Spain en masse 10 years ago; their cheap labor helped fuel the housing boom sweeping the country at the time. My wife met a Nigerian at the large finca where she worked; he was living in a tent in a cemetery. She told him he could stay at our ramshackle house for the winter, since we would be returning to our apartment in the village when the cold weather came. Immigration laws were lax; a fixed address registered at a town hall was the only requirement needed to work. Two Nigerians lived at our house; 16 claimed residence. They were all God-fearing men from the Igbo tribe; the majority didn't drink, smoke or swear. Needless to say, I had little in common with them. We didn't charge rent due to the primitive living conditions, but were treated to copious amounts of delicious banku to eat in exchange.

A Mallorcan delicacy is baby goat, slow-cooked in a stone oven. The Nigerians claimed it was wasteful to eat such a small animal. To prove their point, they went to a farm and bought a six-year-old male goat, had it slaughtered and cooked it. The significance of bygone, quaint euphemisms like "You smell like a goat" suddenly became luminescently clear. Innocuous adjectives such as 'smell' or 'odor' are too timid--these animals stink to high heaven. A rutting male goat can be smelled a quarter-mile away.

We parked at the far end of our driveway and were walking to the house when the first noxious vapors wafted over. We immediately opened every window in the house. They were boiling the meat in large cauldrons of water. My wife's sister and husband took one look in the pot and made a quick exit. Insisting that we partake in the feast, I was served a plate overflowing with unidentifiable offal, assorted organs and animal parts; I could discern an ear with some remaining fur on it, along with billowy organ parts, valves and vital connectors still attached. Fortunately there was a bottle of wine; we immediately started quaffing with abandon. My wife took a few sips of broth and declared herself stuffed to the gills. Engaging in an intense mental exercise--mind over matter--I finished the entire plate, one awful bite at a time. It was by far the worst thing I'd ever eaten. Asked if I was ready for another heaping plateful, I insisted I was quite sated, incapable of ingesting another morsel.

urban trash, nigeria
Smoldering trash on the outskirts of Onicha.
Apart from that meal, we became enamored with the stories of Nigerian village life, and were determined to visit the country ourselves. We needed visas to enter the country, requiring a trip to the Nigerian embassy in Madrid. The consulate official didn't believe it was for a vacation; tourism was nonexistent. He insisted I was conducting business, and demanded to know what it was. After 10 minutes of redundant questioning, our meeting was going nowhere. I wondered if I was supposed to bribe him, and muttered in Igbo that we'd get to Nigeria with God's grace. The official paused, raising his eyebrows; he asked me to repeat the native phrase. Hearing it again, he was suddenly satisfied; he offered me something to drink, and said our visas would be ready within the hour.

Although I wouldn't call the trip a mistake, it taught me that experiencing a non-western reality can be a sobering experience. Lagos is one of the armpits of the world. Disembarking from the plane, the first thing I noticed was the dim light. It wasn't exactly cloudy, but the sun seemed to be obscured by a thin grey patina, with a feint smell of sulfur in the air. It was dense, impenetrable smog, permeating the city around the clock. Ancient trucks belched black diesel smoke, sitting hopelessly trapped in midday traffic. With no municipal disposal/pickup services, trash burned in large piles in indiscriminate places. On the major thoroughfares, six lane highways were reduced to two lanes; rusting hulks inhabited the other four. Traffic lights were smashed, presumably destroyed in some long ago riot or coup. Potholes were so large and unavoidable that drivers simply drove down into them, cautiously emerging on the other side. Side roads were unpaved dirt, which became large untraversable lakes during rainy season. All vehicles had every distinguishable panel and part etched with the license plate number, to avoid theft. Overburdened telephone poles sagged with the weight of hundreds of cables precariously intertwined; electricity in banks and other businesses flickered on and off all day. All buildings were walled off with doubled razor wire or broken glass shards. Even small fast food restaurants had armed security.

Local children always
gathered around us.
Children played in open sewers running in front of their homes. We saw scattered fist fights in the middle of streets. Through it all, crowds appeared immediately around us. Many had never seen white people. "White man! Welcome to Nigeria! You are welcome here!" Local children pressed in to touch my four-year-old daughter's hair.

We drove seven hours out to Anambra state, to the village of Igbo Ukwu. Every twenty miles or so, we'd encountered ad hoc roadblocks made from stones and old tires. Policemen holding automatic weapons stood solemnly waiting. For 10 or 20 cents, we were allowed to pass through. We passed through Onicha, another large, dirty city sorely lacking basic services. The village, however, was a revelation.

To be continued...

Friday, October 5, 2012

More Facebook comments I wanted to make, but didn't...

Idiotic pedantry
Now isn't that so very kind of you. And very smug. I doubt even in neanderthal times one individual could pass summary judgment on another caveman, without some repercussions from other clan members. 


Unqualified opinion
I have nothing against Woody Harrelson. He's a decent actor. But that's all he is. His opinion is no more valid or worthy of repeating than that of my car mechanic, the supermarket cashier, or the mailman.


Politically inappropriate
I no longer make political statements on FB, no matter how cogent they may be.  It's inappropriate.
Can you say redactive?  FB makes me tired...



Monday, September 17, 2012

Choking the Chicken.

Soller finca
Back view of Sa Casa Nova, chicken house on upper terrace.
We bought our house in Mallorca 12 years ago. The owner said it dated back five generations, making the finca over 200 years old. Like many subsistence farms on valuable real estate, it was subdivided a number of times before we purchased it. We own a little less than two acres.

Stone houses may last forever, but the building was abandoned and in ruins. A steel support post prevented the front archway from falling down and killing someone. Another post held up rotted beams in the kitchen, the floor beneath stained with rainwater. There was no hot water, a tiny hearth in the kitchen for heat, and an outdated electrical system. A rusted Seat 400 automobile graced the patio beside the front carriage doors. Piles of stones, cement rubble, twisted metal and rotted wood were strewn throughout the property. The small citrus orchard was choked with impenetrable thorn bushes. It was early spring, however, and the land was bursting with life. Everywhere we looked was a jungle of green, green, green--a bombastic orgy of fertile overgrowth. A navel orange the size of a large grapefruit was poking through some thorns; a fruit tree was hidden inside somewhere. I carefully reached in and plucked the fruit; giving half to my wife. We bit into the succulent flesh and looked at each other. It was the best orange I had ever tasted. The real estate agent was busy pontificating about rising land values and investment potential.

"With a little reconstruction, you'll have--"
"We'll buy it," my wife said in Mallorcean.

All Mallorcan fincas have names; there was a ceramic plaque beside the big front doors bearing the name of the owner: C'an Llopies, or house of wolves. My suggestion was to rename it Ca'an Descrombros, or house of rubble, due to the garbage everywhere. The name caught on amongst friends and family, earning me angry glares from my wife. Since it was our new house, that's what we named her: Sa Cosa Nova.

The old Llopies family subsisted by raising pigs; there were two small pens still on our part of the property, one intact, the other a crumbling stone foundation. I found small syringes and old medicine vials for months, along with an antique butchering cleaver that I restored. I chicken-wired the standing enclosure, and instantly had a hen house. I bought a few young hens for five bucks apiece at a flea market, hit the farm co-op for hay, feeders and a sack of corn, and was off and running.

Chickens are strange, jittery animals. My mother-in-law told me to pick them up and rub their bellies to relax them. I was hoping a chicken genie would magically appear and give me golden eggs. Otherwise, I couldn't imagine rubbing the belly of a chicken, but these things are good to know.

Chickens will eat anything except meat. Rice, pasta, bread, potato, cucumber or carrot peelings, cauliflower or broccoli stalks--I simply chopped everything up and threw it in their pen. They pooped all over the straw and shredded it into a rich fertilizer, which I used in the garden. And then there were the eggs. I don't care what kind of expensive organic eggs are available in the supermarket--they're nothing like the ones we had. Yolks had the color of a setting sun, egg whites were so thick they defied scrambling, with shells so hard they needed a clout from a chef knife to open them.

One morning I went in the coop to water the chickens, and found every one of them dead. There were some scattered feathers lying about, but for the most part they were physically intact, except for the heads, which were nowhere to be found. The gate of the pen was still securely closed. It was macabre and bizarre, something out of an Edgar Allen Poe story. Something horrible had occurred in the dead of night, but I had no idea what it was.

I returned to the house and asked my wife a series of pointed questions. "That rotgut your uncle drinks--it´s not Amontillado, is it? Do you belong to any satanic cults? Is this house built on top of an ancient graveyard?" She had no idea what I was talking about. I spied Jeroni, our snobby neighbor's gardener,  fumigating their citrus trees. Our huerto was the only one in the area that was pesticide-free, guaranteeing safe haven for every kind of insect within miles.
chicken killer
Very cute, throat-ripping vermin.

"All my chickens are dead. Can you take a look?"

He made a face like I had asked him to clean our toilets, but grunted and walked over. The Mallorcean language is a dialect of Catalan, but most native men prefer grunting. One glance seemed to tell him the whole story. "Mustels got in here."
"What's a mustel?"
"A little animal. From the woods behind your house."  Ever loquacious, he grunted again before returning to his orange grove, determined to chemically drench the one square foot of land he missed.

The human element was no longer a possibility, but I still had no idea what in hell a mustel was. I kept picturing Zero Mostel, the zany, chubby comedian, breaking into my chicken coop and biting the birds' heads off. I finally learned that mustels were small weasels. I examined all the chicken wire and found one solitary ring broken. It had fur on it.  I fixed the hole and bought more hens, but didn't feel secure. My chickens needed protection--some kind of enforcer. Enter Koko, rooster extraordinaire.

We were eating lunch on our patio one day when a friend arrived with the biggest, most colorful rooster I'd ever seen; he'd taken him from the farm he worked at. "They had problems with it."
Instead of asking the logical question, "What kind of problems?" we simply thanked him and threw him in with the hens, naming the colorful beast Koko.

It's true that cocks crow at dawn. Not just once, though. Koko embraced his mornings, serenading the dawn with an audacious, screeching overture. He also crowed mid-mornings, at noon, in the early afternoon, at dusk--basically, whenever the mood struck him. Our snooty French neighbor would occasionally lean over the fence and make a comment.

"Rooster makes a lot of noise, doesn't he?"
"Does he?" I'd say, trying to rub the sleeplessness out of my eyes." "I don't even hear it anymore."

During the day the birds ranged freely on the upper terrace of our property. I was repairing a fence up there when I noticed Koko observing me. He suddenly stood up very tall,  fluttered his wings a bit and charged at me. A small feathered animal shouldn't be able to intimidate a grown man. Except for Manhattan bike messengers, I'd never had anything charge me with the intention of doing harm. I ran a few feet into the woods, which seemed to satisfy him. He strutted back to his hens, clucking with contentment.

And so go began our little war.

Now whenever I entered the chicken coop with food and water, Koko would attack me. There was little room in there to sidestep or avoid him. I tried talking soothingly to him, hoping to win him over as my friend. Nothing doing. One morning, I tried a street hockey approach; I slapshot him into the wall with a shovel as he charged me. He simply bounced off the cinderblocks and charged again. Eventually I learned to enter and pounce on him before he attacked. I'd hold him upside down by his legs until I changed the water and fed the hens. When I was done I'd toss him to the far corner and make my exit before he could recover.

Savage Rooster
Picasso knew a psychotic
bird when he saw one.
The straw that broke the chicken's back was the day he trapped my five-year-old daughter and a young woman who was staying at our house. No longer content to cluck about on the terrace, the chickens sought our company; they'd jump down to our patio, with the rooster in tow. Koko charged the two females, chasing them into the house and cornering them in our kitchen. They climbed out the window, doubled around and locked the rooster in until I arrived home. Something needed to be done; I couldn't give him away in good conscience...

I had another problem; the chickens had started eating their own eggs. I asked the guy at the farm co-op what I should do. He grunted. "Very bad. Very hard to stop. Get new chickens."
"But what about the old chickens?"
He raised his eyebrows, grunted and said nothing, fetching hay bales for another customer.

I'd never killed anything bigger than a mosquito in my life; our pigeons were a good example. Pigeon (or dove, to be more culinary) tagine was my favorite food when I visited Morocco. I figured I could raise them as an occasional dining delicacy. For some reason, the pigeons took a shine to me, following me everywhere. When I was working in the garden, they'd be perched in a nearby tree. An hour later, I'd be cooking lunch on our patio, and notice them perched in a row on the roof, watching me. I didn't have the heart to kill the damn things, but they were multiplying like crazy, eating all the chicken grain.

I had no idea how to kill a chicken. Like everything else, I looked it up online. A chicken rancher's website suggested to hang them upside, put a pan underneath to catch the blood and slit their throats. My dad told me his mother in Sicily used to break their necks. He insisted one quick pull and twist was all it took. That sounded cleaner. Just to be sure, I took a cleaver and block of wood with me out to the chicken coop.

It may sound trite or contrived, but I thanked the birds for being part of our lives, apologized and explained that they had outlived their usefulness on our farm.

My dad's mom must've known where a carotid artery or some key neck joints were, because when I tried to wring the first hen's neck,  it didn't die. Instead, it started gasping for air. Horrified, I grabbed the cleaver quickly and put an end to it, wings flapping violently. It was terrible. I made short work of the next hen and eyed Koko. I tied the rooster's feet, hung him upside down from an overhanging tree branch, and watched him swinging there. I cut him back down. He was too noble a beast to die hanging from a string upside down. At the chopping block I made as quick an end of him as I could. As his involuntary convulsions drained his life force, I knew Koko had a truer purpose and integration with the natural world than I could ever realize.

I felt wretched about killing the chickens, but didn't regret it, and would do so again if the situation arose. I took the bird's lives without any feeling of dominance or superiority. As human beings, we are simply one more of nature's creatures, no more or less than any other living thing. To believe that certain animals occupy a lower or higher level on the evolutionary scale is an anthropomorphic error. All living things are disparate points of light on the greater, gaian map of the universe.

There certainly exists a food chain, though. I gave the dead chickens to some Nigerian friends, who promptly plucked them and made stew. It was delicious.