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The Jumping Chicken Of Otsego County

Terry Berkson, who has an MFA in creative writing from Brooklyn College, lives on a farm outside Richfield Springs. His articles have appeared in New York magazine, the New York Daily News Sunday Magazine, Automobile and other publications.

Got a call the other day from my friend Charlie in Brooklyn. He said that he was thinking of getting a couple of chickens to keep in his apartment so that he could get really fresh eggs. I got on my high horse and asked, “What do you know about raising chickens?”

“I’m good with birds,” Charlie countered.

“Remember how I taught my parrot to stand on his head for money?”

It was true. I don’t know how he did it, but when he’d pull a dollar bill from his pocket and wave it in the air, Webster – that’s what he named the bird – would invariably hold onto the cage bars and stand on his head. Maybe the fact that Charlie’s an obsessive-compulsive provided the repetition needed to teach his pet such a trick.

I had just cleaned out the coop and warned Charlie that chickens were a lot messier than his little Webster. “Also,” I continued, “hens can be noisy. You ought to hear them scold me when I try to slip an egg out from under them.”

“They don’t crow like roosters,” Charlie said.

“No, but they argue over a spot in the laying box. Your neighbors would never stand for their clucking.”

“I guess you’re right,” my friend said of his shot-down idea.

I felt bad because Charlie is the biggest fan of eggs and chickens I know. I always bring him some on trips to Brooklyn and he invariably raves about how much better my free-range, naturally fed, browns are.

In response to his parrot story, I told him about a trick my favorite chicken, Danielle, does.

Terry Berkson demonstrates Danielle’s prowess. That chicken can jump!

When I go out to the yard with a leftover corn on the cob, Danielle will jump several feet in the air – without the assistance of wings – to peck at a kernel. “None of my other chickens do that,” I tell Charlie.

“Really?” he says.

I assure him it’s true.

“You can enter that bird in a competition. There must be chicken-jumping contests up there. I could be her manager!”

I was doubtful about Charlie’s idea. The only chicken competition I ever heard of was cock fighting and that’s illegal.

“Look into it. You may be sitting on a gold mine!”

“I will,” I tell my friend.

But lately, it’s been snowing a lot and I find myself almost on my belly trying to push my undersized snow blower out to the coop.

“Should’ve sold them chickens before winter!” my wife Alice reminded me. “You’d have more time to finish renovating the bathroom.”

Yesterday, she took the initiative by calling King’s Livestock Auction to tell them we were coming. Of course, I was feeling guilty. Danielle and the other Golden Comets had been great egg producers – until the bitter cold set in.

Alice, eager to get rid of the competition, held the box lids closed as I sadly stuffed in my girls. Unfortunately, the last chicken I had to catch was my super jumper, Danielle. When I bent to grab her she rose over my head while hooking a claw into my nostril and scratching me way up to the bridge of my nose. I was bleeding profusely.

All feelings of guilt were gone as I went back to the house to apply alcohol and stop the flow of blood. Pressure, cold water, ice, nothing seemed to be working. We had to be on the road shortly to be on time for the auction.

Finally, I took a large strip of toilet paper and pasted it to my nose, loaded the chicken boxes into the truck and headed out. Alice laughed a little every time she looked at me. The paper remained for fear I’d start bleeding again.

I was a little heavy on the gas pedal as we passed the intersection of Routes 20 and 51. Just my luck, a state trooper was hiding behind a nearby barn. He took after me with his lights flashing.

I pulled onto the shoulder and he stopped several yards behind. When he approached and I rolled down the window, the toilet paper was the first thing he saw. “What happened to your face?” he asked.

“I was training a chicken and got scratched,” I told him. “We’re headed for The Chicken Olympics at King’s and we’re late.”

“I never heard of The Chicken Olympics,” the officer said soberly.

“Oh yeah,” I assured him. He didn’t even crack a smile.

“Have you been drinking?” he asked as he sniffed the air in the car. He probably smelled the alcohol I had put on the wound.

“No!” I said emphatically.

“I’ll have to ask you to step out of the car,” he said as Alice’s mouth dropped open.

So there I was out on Route 20 trying to walk a straight line in the slippery snow with the toilet paper flapping in the wind. Passing cars slowed as I tried to stand still on one leg. When I slipped and almost fell, he pulled out a Breathalyzer and told me to blow into it. I thought I heard the chickens muffled laughter in the boxes.

When I passed the test, the officer went back to his car and returned a few minutes later. “Here’s some more paper for you,” he said as he handed me the speeding ticket.

Disgusted, I started the truck and began to head down the road towards King’s. I was wondering what my friend Charlie would have done in this situation. He’s a resourceful guy. Maybe he would have gotten a chuckle and disarmed the cop by pulling that dollar out of his pocket and getting a jumping demo from Danielle. Or maybe he would have been arrested for attempted bribery.

Unlike parrots, state troopers don’t stand on their heads for money.


1 Comment

  1. This isn’t a funny story. Those poor bird’s were likely killed at the auction. What a bunch of selfish jerks.

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