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For the record, Jen, I’m still mad at you.
I still haven’t forgiven you for that time you started a global religion devoted to chickens. (It was just really insensitive.)
Still thinking about that night when I was walking you home from our third date and we cut through a farmyard and there was a full moon and the Milky Way stretched over our heads like a galactic wedding canopy. And I was trying to guide you toward the shadows, to get you a lone, press you up against the side of a coop, but you wouldn’t stop pulling on my hand. You were leading me into the moonlight à la that ubiquitous genre of Instagram photo, into the center of the ring of coops, stomping through the feces in your brand-new pumps like you didn’t even care. I couldn’t stop thinking about that old Seinfeld episode where George’s dad is like, If the rooster has sex with the chicken, what is the hen for? and in that moment I felt about as useless as that hen, or as useless as an Instagram photographer, which might be worse.
At first I thought you were just in a hurry to get home, which would have been fine, but then we got to the center of the circle of coops and your pumps stopped pumping and you—just—stopped? You stood there under the stars and the moon and the white-streaked sky and you gazed at the clapboard monuments towering around you like Stonehenge, and you kicked at the dirt as if scratching for worms, and then you looked me in the eye (for the first time that night).
And you said, You know what would make a really great religion?
By now we both know the answer was Chickens, of course it was chickens, the whole thing had been foreshadowed, literally, but this feces-reeking, halfway-Instagrammable milieu. At the moment, though, all I could think about was that famous quote from the Dalai Lama, the one about how his religion was Kindness, and how if you weren’t about to say Kindness you’d already gotten your own question wrong, and how if you weren’t going to say Kindness you should at least say something cool like Laser tag or Bouncy castles. But nah, you didn’t say any of those things. You said Chickens.
What? I said.
I dunno, just think about it.
They start with trash, right? The worms and bugs and seeds and crap they find on the ground. They take that garbage, they ingest it, and…they turn it into something beautiful.
…you’re talking about eggs? I said.
Yes, eggs. What isn’t amazing about an egg? You can make them into anything from an Egg McMuffin to a chocolate cake, and I think I read somewhere that they’re the ideal protein for the human body or something. Didn’t Bilbo call them ‘golden treasure’?
Bilbo? From The Hobbit?
Anyway, you said, that’s my new religion. Chickens. I’ll call it Chickenism, or Chickianity, or Chick Tracts, or something.
I…don’t think that’s how it works. You can’t just declare the existence of a new religion.
You don’t have any teachings. You don’t have any followers. ‘Liking chickens’ isn’t a religion, it’s just an affinity, and not one that’s even particularly uncommon among women in their twenties.
But you already had that faraway look in your eyes, the one I’d get used to in the years to come as things started to drift ever further apart, and I suddenly realized that challenging you had been the exact wrong thing to do. Some people would have admitted I was right, admitted that not every idea you get in the middle of the night in the middle of a chicken yard is a great idea, but you were going to take it as a dare. And if there was any doubt, you put it all to rest a second later, when you said Watch me—a cliché, I guess, but one that shook the stilts of the coops around us and dared the moon to question you—and you turned and stomped away, and somehow even with your heels on you were too fast for me to keep up, and then I didn’t see you again for months.
Sometime that fall, I got a text from you that said I did it.
I finished The Book of Chicken.
It took me a second to remember what you were talking about, because I guess I had memory-holed that moment in the farmyard. I’d been thinking you’d just ghosted me, that you’d moved on with your life, maybe started dating other people, not that you’d been cloistered for months writing a new religious text like some sort of shitkicking L. Ron Hubbard. But I didn’t have much time to think about that, because the next thing I knew you were in my driveway, blowing the horn on a Ford F-150 I’d never seen before, while the cages in the back filled the air with deafening clucks. And I should have just locked the door and stayed inside, but instead I came out, terrified of my own curiosity, and you leaned over to open the passenger door and patted the seat while intoning Come with me if you want to live.
Your Arnold impression was better than some, worse than most, but I could tell that you’d meant every word that you’d said, from your wardrobe if nothing else. You’d replaced your button-down shirt and straight-leg jeans with overalls and flannel, but it was when you turned to face me that my jaw dropped.
In the first place, your hair was gone—or at least was covered with a wig of white feathers that you’d glued down with a straw hat. But that was when I saw your eyes and I realized you must have been driving here without watching the road at all because somehow they were pointing in opposite directions.
I couldn’t look directly at them, couldn’t bring myself to consider that maybe when you gaze into the chicken abyss the chicken abyss gazes back, but then the (inevitable) car wreck became (inevitably) irresistible. In those eyes I saw night after night of staring into twin monitors, reading post after post on chicken-themed message boards, and I hesitated again, but you patted the seat one more time, and I found myself too terrified to look into those Marty Feldman eyes and say anything other than Cluck.
You hit the gas, and I said Where are we going? and you said The mall, and I said, Why? and you said To preach, and at first I thought the idea was insane. Who still goes to malls? But you were right, as always. You’d taken me the mall in the rich part of town, the one that was doing okay, and we’d gotten there just as the impossibly early teen curfew went into effect. By the time they were coming out the doors, shuffling toward their cars, laughing about idiotic things, practicing probably-illegal skateboard tricks, you were already up on your hay bale, eyes scanning the whole crowd at once as you clucked into your bullhorn and the chickens in your truck bed clucked along with you.
I watched as you slowly unrolled the Book of Chicken, a scroll made from feather-hole-pocked parchment, and yes, the first several yards of it were just clucks, which you read aloud carefully. And the crowd gathered around, and at first they jeered, and then picked up trash and prepared to throw it. And, amazingly, the first thing to be thrown was an egg.
You caught it.
I remember thinking how little sense it made that someone would find an intact egg rolling around a mall parking lot, and how it made even less sense than that that you would catch the egg without breaking it. I knew—I was sure—you must have planted it there, but here you were, having made a one-in-a-million catch, squeezing (gently) the egg between your thumb and your forefinger, your nails painted a pure white to match the feathers on your head, and the crowd stared in silent awe.
Consider (cluck!) the lowly chicken, you read, now holding the scroll with one hand while your other hand continued to squeeze the egg aloft. She neither toils in the fields nor mines ore from the earth nor programs million-dollar smartphone apps. And yet (cluck!) she takes the garbage from the ground and she spins it into gold. You paused, allowing the crowd to breathe for a moment, then squeezed the trigger on your bullhorn and yelled, to the sky, See for yourselves, friends!
And with that, your fingers finally squeezed together and the shell of the once-thrown egg shattered, spilling the gold inside and baptizing the ones in front of you with their rich, gooey proteins. It ran down in streaks, glistening on their hair and their faces—
—and kept flowing.
The egg’s insides continued to pour forth, flowing over the crowd till every head was wet and sticky, far exceeding the capacity of the shell it had sprung from, until at last it lighted on my head as well and ran down onto my brand new sneakers, soaking them in the gooey, ineffable strands, and I fell on my knees and I cried It’s all true.
That was all so long ago now.
That was before all the mass conversions, the people falling down clucking in the streets, the now-sainted miracle girl who can lay eggs herself and baffles even you. That was before the Great Chicken Twitter Wars in which we deployed wave after wave of reply guys to cluck back at whoever questioned our doctrines, before the TikTok dance battles where the egg-laying girl put the mooves of the rival cow sect to shame, before it all somehow gave way to the Chicken Crusades, in which we gained control of two dozen nations’ entire chicken and egg industries, swearing to use it only for good, except we never figured out how to actually do that.
That was years before that night when you told me you were making me your chief Hen, the chicken to your rooster or whatever, years before that night when you showed me your trick egg out of which you pumped endless goo from a tube hidden in your sleeve and a bladder hidden in your overalls, though you continued to insist the endless white and yolk was real the first time and you only invented the trick egg when it stubbornly refused to happen again, and for some reason I believed you.
That was before you bought the entire city of Louisville, Kentucky, before you built your Global Chicken Mansion on the site of the last home of Harlan Sanders, covering it in gold and jewels and variations on Picasso’s Le Coq. Before you declared the new official currency of the world would be RoosterCoin, before the value of RoosterCoin crashed ninety-seven times and rebounded ninety-eight.
They’re all standing outside now, all one billion of them, or at least as many as you can fit into our courtyard. All pushing into the square to hear your address for the Great Chicken Migration, all having left behind their home Church’s to make the pilgrimage. I’m watching you now, in your feather-covered robes, holding high your infinite egg, stepping out to address them with the egg-laying girl at your side, and I know that I have to believe.
I have to believe, not because of the miracles (although there were miracles). I have to believe, not because the teachings are true (although the teachings are true). I believe because of what I see before me. The gold, the jewels, the hard drives full of crypto for which I swear I have the password written down on a Post-It somewhere around here, and they’ll be worth a lot if I can just find it. The mountain of empty fried chicken buckets we’ve amassed over thousands of late-night drunken drive-through runs.
I have to believe because the checks have already been cashed.
I’m watching you now, staring down at the masses with your permanent wall eyes, and I see the pure contempt you have for them, and I finally understand the metaphor—that the trash of the ground is down there below, and the gold is up here all around us, and the process is too late to reverse now, and anyway, what was I talking about?
Oh, right. That whole starting-a-religion thing? That was a dick move.
Totally ruined the date. 🕹🌙🧸
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Stuff I’ve been enjoying lately
K, so, I’m only four or five chapters into Douglas Weissman’s novel Life between Seconds, and I’m still not sure what it’s going to be about (it’s one of those weird, surreal literary novels that jumps around a lot), but already I’ve come across one of my favorite written gags of all time:
Claus [a sapient, surly teddy bear] had a tattoo, pink, a felt indentation of a heart, adorned by the words, Try me. [Sam] wasn’t sure if it was rhetorical.
If the rest of the book turns out to be half that funny, it’ll be well worth your time. 🕹🌙🧸
this story came about because "shitkicking L. Ron Hubbard" came into your head and you just HAD to build a story around it...