A GROUP OF US FROM THE FRATERNITY rented a van and drove from Iowa State to Phoenix for the first bowl game the Cyclones had been to in many years. We played some Pittsburg team and won easily. I couldn’t have cared less; I was there for the road trip.
Afterwards, some of us spent a lot of time and money in the hotel bar being regaled by a well-spoken and attractive female bartender in her early thirties. Santer, who had had the same girlfriend since high school, was clearly smitten, as were Clay and Luke.
I came down to the bar after hearing the rumor of a late-night van trip to Las Vegas. Not sharing the enthusiasm for her, I began smoking Marlboro Lights to entertain myself.
Back in Ames, I had been experimenting with cigarettes for some time, smoking a few in conjunction with a nice Jack-and-Coke buzz, while some cover band deafened us. But I only smoked a little on the weekends or while I drank. I was resolved not to become addicted. I smoked quickly that night in the hotel bar and drank, mindfully flicking grey ashes at every opportunity.
“Man, Jake,” Clay said to me, “That giant chicken really got the best of you after we rushed the field. You should have seen the look on your face when you realized it wasn’t the Pittsburg’s mascot–when you realized it was a real giant chicken. It was priceless.”
“Yah,” Luke said, “Then, when he saw it outside the stadium–he was so pissed when he thought it was following him.”
“That chicken’s been following me longer than that. Maybe my whole life.” They all gave me this bewildered look. It got quiet. They couldn’t understand about giant chickens.
The bartender smiled at us, “I bet you guys can’t wait to get married to your sweeties–” she crinkled her nose, “have little babies.”
“What?” Luke cringed. “No guy really wants to get married, much less have kids. It sneaks up on you–you know? when you’re drunk. Like the tooth-fairy.”
I smirked at Luke.
“What?” he retorted, “I’m drunk!” He spun on his seat, clasping Santer’s shoulder. “It’s not that we loves women or kids for that matter. We run outta time. If we could get away with it, we’d be moronic kids our whole damn lives.”
Clay roused and tried to lift a frothy mug, “Here beer! I . . . uhhhhh.” He caught himself on the bar, “Here-here!”
“Here-here!” we rejoined.
She smiled at us. “I don’t know. I think maybe you guys just don’t realize what you want yet.”
“Trust us,” I spoke up, “We’ve never been more honest in our lives, lady.”
Moments later, that giant chicken sat alongside the shiny clear-coat mahogany bar. It seemed a hen by its diminutive red waddle but, regardless, this chicken was big.
It said, “BI-CAAK!” and adjusted itself on its seat, its countenance straining. It was laying an egg.
The bartender said, “Isn’t that so wonderful?” her eyes growing with fondness as she mused, “The miracle of life.”
Santer was visibly irate and leered toward the chicken who twitched and pecked about the dark bar, oblivious to our displeasure.
There were plenty of places for chickens to lay their humongous eggs: in subway cars, at movie theaters, in line to Holy Communion. But this had crossed a line. The chicken had deliberately sought us out to draw attention to itself. Not that I envied the chicken and its egg. No. It was a matter of it spoiling our good time by deliberately distracting us. Conversations were never the same afterward since no one could remember what was last said.
But the chicken just went ahead and laid its egg without any mind to how uncomfortable it would make the people around it feel. Like women, breastfeeding in public, making you feel uncomfortable as you realize your time is running out. Women, with their irrational libidos, cresting waves of estrogen, smiling coyly, unfurling bate-and-switch, stuffing you inside smaller and smaller iron cages, far from ambition and the pleasures of childhood as they cry out and whip demanding more, still more, making you the man you should be for them. Dragging you to weddings, prodding for your disingenuous grins upon crabby, red-faced mucus-monsters in the park until the voice they hear as they put head to pillow whispers: Don’t take that birth control pill. Don’t tell him. The whole world sides with us. We bring life. Everything will be better when we’re pregnant.
Maybe that’s what this chicken thought. Maybe that’s why it followed me: to show me it could lay an egg. But there was something vacant in those small black eyes– inhuman, animalistic–so vacant and simple. It taunted me.
Something had to be done. But what could I do? The chicken was over 6’5”, easy . . . Over-easy? No, that wouldn’t do. I hadn’t the resources for the undertaking.
Suddenly, it came to me and I knew this was my chance, what I’d waited for. I lit another cigarette and turned to the chicken.
“BI-CAAK!” The chicken leaned toward me and I attacked its face with both lit cigarettes. It leapt up, feathers flying and thrashing.
I hefted the giant egg from atop the barstool and ran, ran so fast as my friends cheered. I had done it. It was mine. I was the hero–the great man! But it was so heavy. My muscles strained and burned as the yoke inside the warm white shell bounced and my heart raced. I made it to the hallway and raised it over my head, feeling its weight in bent knees. I flung it into the air, watching oblong whiteness rise . . . rise, rise! plummet to the floor in an unforgettable crunching splash of yellow, foamy yoke as it washed over worn red carpet, past white running shoes. The chicken ran into the hallway and, seeing the yoke-soaked carpet, fell unto its knees and wept. The chicken evoked pity in me, its cherry-red waddle giggling as it bent its head toward its feathery chest.
Had the simple beauty of my actions been tarnished? Had I done wrong? I hesitated, holding my breath.
On the other hand, the chicken was enormous with huge, shiny, white feathers. What would it do if I snuck up, plucked one?
I plucked a feather–
Its head arched, “BI-CAAAAAALCK!”
I dashed, hid behind a half-wall of the hotel’s restaurant. Santer rested his hand on the chicken’s back to console it but it attacked him wildly with beak and wings.
Then, strangely, it found a green bench outside a gift shop, sat down, crossing its legs, and read a few sections of a newspaper before attempting to eat several gray pages which, apparently, had displeased it.
I skipped and frolicked back to my hotel room, waving my huge white feather about like an impassioned conductor approaching crescendo, a valiant foot-soldier bayoneting the front line. I yelled and hollered obscenities at young children along the way and, after I had calmed myself, I enjoyed a nap with my feather clutched greedily in both hands.
Later that evening, upon seeing me sleep atop the undisturbed comforter clutching the feather, several companions swore they heard me clucking softly in my sleep and they fancied I dreamt of smashing the humongous egg. Earnestly, I confess; they were right!