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 There was no hot water, a tiny hearth in the kitchen for heat, and an outdated electrical system.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.

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Joy of Slapping Small Children.

For some reason, I don't remember my parents yelling at me when I was a kid. Maybe I've blocked it out. I remember being lectured to death in my teens, for offenses like staying out all night or hiding the bloody crucifix that hung in the living room. Spankings dated further back, usually in response to torturing my younger brother, one of my favorite pastimes. My mother's long, delicate fingers seemed to morph into hardened hickory, her thin wedding band suddenly bulging into a tree knot. I would attempt my own mutation, trying to inhale my buttocks into the small of my back as she swatted my behind.

I knew my son for about six months when I first hit him. A year earlier, I had exiled myself to the Spanish island of Mallorca, to find my internal writing muse. Since my muse refused to pay the rent, I landed a job picking olives. In the shade of an ancient olive grove, while ruining my L4 lumbar disc, I met a beautiful Spanish señora.  She was the whole paella: untamed, flowing dark hair, hourglass curves, soft broken English uttered through full, red lips--all combined with a simple, earthy intelligence. Guapisima. She dressed simply, never wore makeup, and always spoke her mind. There was no artifice about her whatsoever; a million light years from the botoxed women I'd left behind in LA. There was one small, red warning tag attached to this beautiful package: the most hyperactive two-year-old boy I'd ever seen. We're talking evil incarnate, a three-foot cyclone, a savage, screaming, Chuckie-like entity, with no fears, boundaries or discernible decibel limits. He was a tiny black hole unto himself, a ceaseless core of energy that destroyed everything in its path. He would've made an interesting study for Stephen Hawking, until being knocked off his wheelchair.

Every night, when sleep settled upon this child, the ensuing peace flowed back into the universe. Supernovas ceased exploding, mercenaries and axe murderers gently laid their weapons down 'til the morrow, compulsive eaters stopped chewing. I hadn't bargained on a devil-child, but I was hopelessly in love with his mother. As I wooed my new sweetheart, I naively thought my abundant love vibrations would soothe the obstreperous little monster, rendering him harmless. A scant five months later, I married my Spanish belle. Ask not for whom the belle tolls...

By this time, olive picking season was over. My bride was cleaning houses during the day; I was washing dishes in a restaurant at night. Her three-year-old refused to get a job, no matter what I said. I couldn't discuss politics with him over tapas and a cold beer; he couldn't drive our Fiat through the mountains when I was drunk. What good was he?

dervish playground
I used to blissfully relax on this beach. Now? Forget it.
As an initial parenting exercise, my doting spouse suggested I take him to our local beach. I considered and dismissed all the potential dangers: there were no waves, no tides, no broken glass, no sharks or killer whales, no lethal jelly fish or floating radioactive waste. He would play and I would get a tan. I generously assented.

There was, however, a busy road right behind the beach. After splashing annoyed French tourists for an hour or so, he made a dash for the street. Leaping to my feet, I wrangled him under my arm before he hit the asphalt, hauling him back to our blanket while he tried to kick me. He couldn't crap in a toilet yet, but knew an amusing game when he saw one. He instantly made another beeline for the road, giggling his chubby little head off the whole time. I fetched him once again. Things were not going according to plan.

"NO. No road. Beach. Playa." My language skills were a shining testament to my immersion in local culture. I plaintively pointed around us. "Water. Agua. Aqui."

Four more sprints to the road and a punch to the scrotum chipped away at my patience. My voice was starting to rise. I bent down on one knee for a serious face to face. "No mas," I stated sternly.

He looked me squarely in the eye, measuring me carefully. Then he spit in my face.

Before the spittle settled on my cheek, before the clock struck high noon, before a pistol's hammer propels a bullet--I swear to God, faster than fucking light travels-- the chi energy of the universe channeled down my left arm.

I slapped the little bastard squarely across the face.

For a second we both stared at each other, equally stunned at what had just occurred. I watched in fascination as his little eyes squeezed tight; he took a small breath, and started bawling. My heart melted, but I held my ground. Fortunately, my hand had no superpower morphing ability; I had barely struck him. In less than a minute he stopped crying and was playing happily, shoveling sand down another child's bathing suit.

I told my lovely bride about it back at our sparse apartment; she was cooking one of her fabulous clay pot stews, over the blare of flamenco music. She simply smiled and kissed me dismissively; she would've been angrier if I tasted her food before it was ready. For better or worse, hitting a child in Spain does not instantly unleash the wrath of municipal agencies, child psychologists or daytime talk show hosts. Whenever my in-laws witnessed his out of control behavior, they unfailingly remarked, "You need to correct that child. Give him a little tock-tock on the coolie, he'll learn." So I tried it. For about a month, I spanked the hell out of that boy. It seemed to bother me a lot more than him. As soon as he stopped crying, he forgot all about it. I would feel horrible for hours, anguishing over the possibilities of psychological scarring and the basic fairness of hitting a child one tenth my weight. When I decided to stop spanking him, it wasn't because of a moral quandary, guilt or because my hand was friggin' sore. The spankings simply didn't work. They did absolutely nothing to alter his behavior; there was no Pavlovian association, negative reinforcement, no retention, nothing.

I tried other child-rearing nostrums, to equal non-avail: timeouts, reward systems, all kinds of reverse, inverse and neutral psychology. In the end, the best way to prevent him from destroying our home and sanity was to put him in a big open space and let him tire himself out. As fall passed and winter settled in, passersby of the local park stared at a small boy swinging from monkey bars in the dark, immune to the wind and cold.

My son is sixteen now, and no longer hyperactive. We have our disagreements from time to time, ranging from mild to pending nuclear holocaust. I can't spank him and the monkey bars no longer interest him. Although not technically a morphing power, I have discovered what can bend him to my will: the promise of a $20 bill for the weekend. God bless the almighty dollar--the real Captain America.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Wacky and Zany, You Are Not.

Four years ago, my marriage went through a rough phase where I thought my wife and I were quitsies. A few of the details were less than flattering to my ego; my self esteem took a gigantic kick to the cookies. Not quite so debilitating that my attraction to the fairer sex went away, though. After a few months, I decided I should get back 'out there', wherever that was. One snag: I hadn't dated in 15 years. Tom the Fireman advised me that a recently divorced, studly work friend was engaged in something called online dating. I'd never heard of it. This guy had so many women contacting him, he couldn't keep up with the correspondence. Women have a thing for firemen, though. Must be the smell.

You want a child cartoonI joined, and quickly realized it was going to be a rough slog. First of all, I'm as superficial as anyone else; I wanted to date attractive women. That eliminated at least half the profiles. Second, most of the attractive women wanted to date focused, successful men that earned at least $100,000 a year, instantly knocking me out of the picture.

Lastly--and this was the biggest sticking point--most of the profiles bored the living shit out of me.
 "Friends and family chide me for my rapacious wit."
 "I'm equally up for a night on the town, or a quiet meal at home."
"I am passionate about life. I don't like games." 
Reading profiles while in bed guaranteed slumber within 10 minutes or less.

Do dating sites give away tours to Machu Pichu or the Great Wall of China? There were endless photos of women at those destinations; camel riding was big, along with winning triathlons and ski races in Colorado. I didn't understand how I would ever get a date, considering all these women had rich, rewarding careers, worked out at least five times a week, dined in Paris and jumped on planes to catch weekend sunsets in Bora Bora or Antigua. 

I decided to check out some men's profiles, to see what the competition was up to. I learned that it's possible to construct sentences without the use of punctuation, and that adding Ha! Ha! to the end of a sentence makes for hilarious prose. I now intend to employ this clever writing device whenever possible. Ha! Ha! I was also introduced to the new, modern, single male. Turns out men no longer want to get laid. They want to be friends first, slowly building a relationship based on trust and mutual respect. Men today are only seeking life partners. Superficial women looking for one-nighters filled with fabulous, uninhibited sex should just skip right over them. They're not built that way.

My conclusion? Online dating couldn't possibly be taken seriously. I used a photo of a potted plant as my main profile picture and wrote that all other photos were taken in 1937. Trying to make my intentions clear to any potential suitorettes, I broke down the main "About Me" portion to a series of bullet points, then filled out the other details accordingly:
A second later she asked for money.

  • I'm poor. I do have a crappy job I don't really like, so I can usually pay my bills. I'm pretty much broke all the time, though. Hope you like cycling and public parks. Don't worry, though--I know where all the cheap taco trucks hang out. 
  • I'm wearing sunglasses in my pictures...that guy must be hiding something. Would you believe I lost an eye in a chivalrous sword fight, battling for the honor of a woman? Neither would I. And who's the young girl in the photo? That's my 13-year-old daughter, who showers me with love and affection, until she asks for something and I say no. Then she HATES me.
  • So I was writing this and noticed a little box to the right..."Profile Pro." For $39.95, a professional writer can make me sound much more interesting and intelligent than I really am. Isn't that kind of deceiving? What if I'm totally illiterate? Why not have a "Photo Pro" that will touch up all my photos as well? Or "Life Pro" that will make my whole life look better. Think I'd buy that one...
  • I haven't seen your photos, but can already tell you to delete the third pic. Yeah, that one. It makes you look chunky (notice I didn't say fat). Chunky and a little insane. I told you not to wear that flowered print and you did anyway. You never listen to me.
  • Do you have any coupons for this site? I figure if I can stack enough of them I won't have to pay anything. BTW, I own a Rolls Royce and a yacht.
  • Everything else about me is private--I'm never going to tell you anything. Never, ever, ever. 
  • Quick--how many fingers am I holding up right now? See, you're wrong. We'll never be compatible--I knew it. 
Interests: Pornography, Jackass, any combination therein.

Sports and exercise: To be avoided at all costs. Interferes with my digestion.

For Fun: Pulling wings off insects, kicking people with severe disabilities, spitting.

Pets: Fluffy died when I was nine; I'm still in mourning. Any references to animals will set me off in unpredictable ways.

Hot Spots:  The underside of a recently used frying pan, an iron with the setting on Cotton, the conical point of a lit blowtorch.

Political views: Kill them all.

Sign: Yield, Keep Off the Grass, Sunny Acres Funeral Home.

Last read: Sugar, alkalized cocoa, beet juice color, caramel color, whey, and 1.5% or less of: natural vanilla flavor, salt, carrageenan, soy lecithin. MADE ON EQUIPMENT THAT ALSO PROCESSES WHEAT. Distributed by Nestle USA, Inc., Glendale, CA 91203 USA.

Amazingly, a lot of women responded.

P.S. I'm a glutton for punishment...submitting this to the inimitable bloggers at Dudewrite this week.