The “Other” Rooster
There was enough rooster poop in the garage to cause you to do the ChaCha if you needed to get something out of storage. Benny, poor Benny. Why couldn’t you be a girl chicken, or you could stay a boy but be mute?
City folk aren’t used to the good morning wake up call of a teenage boy - er... chicken. Eventually, we’ll have to deal with teenage boys hot to trot after our daughters, but for now, the garage was our only hope. The former vegetarian and I both enjoy sleeping in. Cock-a-doodle-doo at 6am is just too much; 5am is out of the question. The temporary solution for the day was to grab the crooner out of his squatty little house and throw him in the garage. Crow in there, you windbag! It was nice and muffled. Sleep ensued. It was lovely. The single day garaging of the nuisance pet turned into three. You’re thinking “days” and you’d be wrong. Three weeks. Three long, early morning wake up call weeks. Each morning, we’d hear lovely tunes being played by the vocal cords of a 5 pound chicken. Each morning at first crow, Ryan barrelled out into the yard in his pajamas, half staggering, and grabbed that cursed beast and threw him in the dungeon, I mean garage. But now, too many quarter-sized floor landmines were visible and other action had to be taken. Passive aggressive wasn’t working in our favor, unless we wanted to start growing corn on the cement next spring.
Ryan tried to kill him twice. A computer nerd apparently needs a stronger grip, or more patience with the grip he already has. Benny recovered quickly the first time. He never even seemed like he’d been in a traumatic “accident” or had brain damage. But the near brush with death hadn’t phased him. Too bad he was too thick skulled - or thick necked - to realize why we wanted him gone. If we could only reason with him, explain that he could start crowing around 11am, then he could live a long happy life in our suburban backyard. Well, chickens don’t reason well since they can’t stay still long enough to make eye contact. We were left to consider other options.
My sister came over out of the blue one day. She had a few computer projects she wanted to get done on our computer. She was always the ‘oddball’ sister, naive and sweet and always said the right thing at the wrong time. Since another adult was added to the attendance sheet of our living room, Ryan quickly planned and executed “Operation Benny’s Secret Ambush - Take Two”. Or in nerd-ese, is that OBSA 2.0? He disappeared for a few minutes, but I didn’t even notice. He’s a super sly kind of nerd with stealth mode and wi-fi.
The next thing I knew, Ryan was standing next to me, slightly winded, and saying that Benny wasn’t dead. Well that sparked every one’s interest, including that of my 4 year old twin daughters. “What’s wrong with Benny?” they asked quite concerned. I had to think quickly. “Mom and Dad are going to go play with Benny for a minute. Auntie will stay with you in the house. And keep the curtains closed.”
I had already gotten plenty of advice from co-workers and friends on how to “off” the next rooster. “You grab them by the neck and fling them around like this and break the neck!” They widened their stance and flailed their arms about. “NO! You take him out to the tree stump and chop his head off” someone else hollered. Yet another coworker chimed in, “Or you could just help him fly over the back fence and forget to go look for him.” All good possibilities considering my history of unsuccessful chicken butchery.
We initially thought we’d keep Benny. If we had lasted a few more months, maybe he would have been a Daddy, but we are impatient modern Americans. It’s quite awkward to explain to your children why Benny is getting a backride from the hens, several times a day. We Americans prefer prepackaged, featherless, boneless, skinless, or nuggets medium sized with a Coke. Benny’s fate would be even less useful and appealing. He was going in the garbage. After all the slime and goop and hard little round things popping out of the last victim a few months previous, I didn’t want to spend another several hours preparing Benny’s 5 pound body for a meal that wouldn’t have enough volume to satisfy our family of four. So, with the option of fresh meat just a few hours away, I thought maybe we’d just order out.
Ryan and I paraded out to the coop, well aware of the finality of the job ahead of us. I’ve never seen a rooster leaning up against the chicken wire with his tongue hanging out of his mouth panting, but remember, I’m a city girl. Maybe this was normal. I rounded up my gardening gloves so my hands wouldn’t be in direct contact with a dying chicken. I had decided I’d try the Twirl-A-Roo Double Full Nelson Neck Breaker maneuver. Several people had demonstrated it for me with air-chickens and they seemed to have experience helping their 80 year old grandmother kill off several of the flock, granted this was 35 years ago when they were in grade school. But if a first grader could commit fowl murder, so could I.
My dirt caked garden glove was awkwardly stiff but my covered fingers fit perfectly around the feathered neck of our reason for the next trip to the garbage can. I picked him up and put my feet shoulder width apart. Everyone that showed me always had a certain stance, so I figured it would make the spinning part less dizzying for me, or something. Ryan turned his back and said, “Bye Benny.” Ryan had named him Benny after one of the members of the group ABBA. We, even to this point, have only named and kept track of that particular chicken - mostly because he had some cream feathers mixed in with the red so we could tell him apart from the others. The mechanics of the neck breaking scheme wizzed through my mind one last time before I attempted moving my body. I proceeded to flail my right arm in some sort of bumpy circular fashion. And nearing the end of the Twirl-A-Roo ride, I contemplated my big finishing move. My wrist was prepared for the quick jerking action neck snap and my brain fired the neurons to move my wrist in the appropriate way. Just so we didn’t have a repeat of the last rooster killing fiasco, I jerked my wrist a few extra times to make sure there was enough damage done by the Double Full Nelson that death would immediately occur. The tiny little bones clicked and crunched a few times over. It felt like I was popping my knuckles.
I sent Ryan back into the house for a disposal bag - who wants to empty the kitchen garbage tomorrow and open the outside garbage and see a dead chicken just hanging out on top of the pile. Why do we always do this the day after garbage pick up? I held the mostly dead chicken in an oxygen depleting death grip in my right hand. The chicken’s head was pointing down at the bottom of my hand, and his neck looped up through my clenched fist and the body flopped over the top. His body swung around with each slight tilt of my wrist. If the crunching neck bones didn’t do the trick, I’d certainly choke him out and he’d be a goner. I held my grip secure until my hand started to twinge in pain. I’ll just switch hands and keep strangling with the left. I want this bird extra dead.
Ryan sauntered up fluffing air into the white kitchen garbage liner to open it wide enough for quick disposal of the carcass. I raised my arm up and lifted the lifeless lump into his plastic coffin. Ryan gently lowered the bag to the ground and tied a knot. He said “I’ll tie it really tight so he’ll suffocate.” I scoffed. “He’s already dead, Ryan! He can’t get any more dead than dead.” The drawstring knot got bigger and bigger with each twist and loop of the red plastic thread. Finally satisfied at his complex tangled mass, he stood up and we walked towards the house. I went inside and he finished the backwoods burial.
I came inside and was immediately asked by the kids, “Where is our chicken?” Then my sister piped up, “Where is the meat?” I answered them one at a time. “Benny flew away, but we still have our two hens. The meat is in the garbage can.” My sister was confused. “You’re just gonna throw him away?” I put my hands on my hips in a defensive position. “Yep. For all the work it was last time to get a teeny tiny little bird that didn’t feed our family for even a single meal, it’s not worth it. I’m glad I learned it, but he’s in the garbage.”
The kids asked, “Why is Benny in the garbage, Mom?” “No honey, he flew over the garbage and out of the yard.” Little white lies of murder and betrayal.
My sister continued, “I’ll take the meat! I want it! Why would you just waste it like that?” I sighed. I hesitated. I sighed again. “Get a couple of knives and a garbage bag and meet me in the yard. You’re helping. Daddy? Play with us until Mom is done in the yard, and keep the curtains closed please.” I marched toward the shed to find the ax hoping it was at least a little sharp. I haven’t used it since I needed the back of it for a hammer and didn’t want to walk all the way to the toolbox in the garage. Have I ever used the sharp edge? Hmm. Maybe it will be okay. Ax in hand, I opened the lid of the garbage can and pulled out the rumpled white garbage sack. The curtains were closed as I walked by the french doors that lead into the living room. I ended my trip at the old apricot tree, right near the water spigot. I flopped the bag down on the ground and ripped it open.
Just when I started to reach inside, I got quite a surprise. I saw a round, brown, open eyeball glaring up at me. Now, as far as I know, dead chickens have closed eyes. This dead chicken had his eye open, wide open, looking around, then staring me down, mentally cursing me in chicken-ese as to why he deserved this maiming and torture and dark solitary confinement. Why is it so damn hard to kill a defenseless chicken?
You’ve got to be kidding me. I gently picked up the bag with dying roo inside and moved the plastic away from his head. I positioned his head on the hard wooden garden beam. I better get him good and dead before my sister came out with my knives. Chop! Well, that finished breaking his neck. Chop, chop, CHOP! It’s not easy to chop through feathers. Or I just can’t pack a punch with an ax like I can solo a Kenmore washing machine down a flight of stairs and lift it into the bed of a truck. The neighbors called me She-Ra for months after that. Benny’s head tumbled to the ground and blood oozed from his neck. Finally the little eye on his detached head closed for good. As I held onto the plastic bag pressed against his headless body, it started to jerk. His feet kicked out a large hole in the end of the sack and then something ridiculous happened. Well, more ridiculous than anything I’ve already stated here...
Are you ready?
My pocket started ringing. Oh for hell’s sake! I wasn’t really incapacitated at the moment and had a free hand, so I reached in my pocket. I didn’t recognize the number, but I answered anyway. “Hi, this is the doctors office needing to schedule a follow up appointment.” Benny’s kicks continued through her chatter, although they were less forceful. “Uh, I’m processing a chicken right now. Like gutting it and stuff. Can I call you back?” There was dead silence. The weakest, squeakiest, most hesitant “um, yeah” came out of that poor receptionist’s mouth. “I guess you’ve never heard that one before, huh?” I laughed with embarrassment and pride. I had made her speechless. That made this phone call even better. We disconnected and my sister walked up with a few kitchen knives and another garbage sack.
I verbalized my way through the process as I awkwardly chopped off the legs at the knee-ish joint and the tips of the wings at the wing-ish joint, explaining to my sister the reasoning behind different cuts and other options based on preference. The extra parts were thrown into the old garbage bag and the thankfully (and finally) lifeless bird was ready to be placed on the new garbage sack. Sanitary? Not necessarily, but better than doing it on the dirt and wooden garden post like I did before. I recalled that it was about to get extra sticky, so while little Benny was hanging out in the tree upside down for blood shed purposes, I sent her back inside to get a few pairs of “Rachel’s a natural redhead and always will be” gloves. She returned and we put on our protection against goo. I showed her how to skin the chicken and told her why I decided that plucking feathers wasn’t for me and why running water was so handy. Feathers stick to darn near everything, even if it’s not wet. If it was more practical, I’d give up on Post-It Notes and just write important things on feathers.
I asked my sister to pull some skin away from the meat here and there, letting her experience that some parts were easy to pull and other parts were a pain in the wing. We chatted about this and that. Sister talk mostly. About our dad that had died two years previous from cancer. About church stuff. About crafts and food storage. Hey, I can be girly sometimes. Don’t even for a second presume that we talked about makeup and brands of clothing and the next super hot teen vampire movie. We’re much more practical than that. Besides, who wants to break a new Lee Press-On Nail or risk ruining your manicure while you’re gutting a chicken, know what I mean? I’m already getting chicken blood on my killer Ed Hardy flip flops. Oh wait, these are from Walmart. Oh, wait. I’m actually doing this barefoot. Yeah, not that girly I guess.
She was actually quite helpful considering the Neanderthal conditions we were doing this in. She held the hose of running water and rinsed all the feathers off our workstation. I was actually having a good time, despite the fact that I was hunched over hacking up a carcass for somebody else.
The conversation lulled at one point and she asked, “What are giblets?” “Uh, some of the guts I guess.” “Can we save the giblets then?” “Uh, I don’t know which parts are giblets and which parts are... not giblets.” She frowned and asked, “What can you use chicken feet for?” I was annoyed. We were finally getting to the important gutting part and she’s asking off the wall stuff. This rooster should be hanging out in the garbage and I should be doing something productive right now, like raking the carpet so the lines are in the same direction or washing my hair. “How the hell should I know? They poop, they walk in their poop, I’m not interested in chicken feet.”
Now remember that I told you before that this is the odd-ball sister. So, I’m shocked and not shocked by this next statement. She could tell I was getting irritated, but she proceeded. “My one friend is Asian and they like chicken feet. I’ll save those for her. Can you get them out of the bag?” I could tell that this was going to be on her terms from here on out. “Take your damn poop feet, but be sure to wrap them up so the kids don’t see them.” She started for the kitchen and hollered, “And we’ll need a clean bowl for the giblets.” My head fell to my chest in exhaustion. This will be interesting. In modern society, two city girls figuring out how to save each little edible part of a bird when there’s a SuperWalmart a few blocks away seems quite asinine, don’t you think?
I decided she wasn’t here to learn how to process a chicken, she was here for conversation and a free meal. I started making my cuts between the legs to start my giblet search. She came back and dug out the dirty, poop feet and put them in a separate sack. The bowl was placed strategically away from the Shamu Splash Zone so we didn’t contaminate any giblety things we placed in there.
I pulled out the intestines. I knew these were not edible. One wrong twist of the knife near the intestines and you’ve got poo nuggets - not appetizing. So we tried to be careful. I could feel that my fingers were wrinkly from excess moisture inside my plastic glove. And I couldn’t wait to soap them up. I felt gunky and we were only at the beginning of the slime-fest.
I reached my hand into the chest cavity to try to separate the lungs from the ribcage. Benny was a little bigger than “Rooster #1” but my hand still didn’t have much room to articulate. Lumps and bumps and wiggling mucus. Well, let’s just pull out this lump and see what it is? A hard red walnut sized thing. “Well, this could be the stomach or the heart or some other giblet. If it’s the stomach, we throw that away. Who wants to eat what a chicken already did?” It was connected by some intestine or veins and arteries and I gave a slight tug. Nope, still attached. Maybe if I pinch the little tubes really hard and pull at the same time, it will come off. That did the trick. We saved our hard red walnut in the bowl after a thorough rinse from the hose. I needed another potential giblet for comparison.
Another reach inside the gaping hole and with a little swishing of chicken parts, I found another little hard thing. A small white bobble about the size and shape of a peeled green grape was between my fingers. I looked at my sister. “What is that?” she asked. I shrugged. “How should I know! It’s a white thing.” I reached back inside and felt around some more, still holding the grape in my left hand. I pulled out the next bumpy rock and beheld an exact duplicate of my little peeled grape. I was dumbfounded. My mind quickly searched through a rough anatomy chart. “Are these chicken balls?” I asked. We both laughed. We had no idea what we were doing at this point.
Thankfully, my sister had been through several years of college. Who knew an Associate of Arts degree could take almost 4 years and being 2 semesters away from a Bachelor’s could take 4 more? Glad I just stuck with the basics of a high school diploma and a good, solid job. She used her “edjamacashun” and reasoned that chicken balls wouldn’t be that big. “You’re probably right. Maybe these are the kidneys.” She nodded in agreement. “Are kidneys giblets?” I shrugged again. “I really have no idea. Cook them up and I bet they taste like pee. I wouldn’t want to eat that. I don’t know what a giblet is and I wouldn’t want to eat one, so I’m just gonna finish this.” I tossed them in the bowl for her to decide. This wasn’t my problem. I’ll just throw guts at her and she can make the ultimate resolution when I didn’t have my hand wrist deep in chicken slush. (A curiosity Google search while writing my story revealed that indeed, the grapes were chicken balls. Good to know.)
We pulled out a few more gobs of tissue and she turned up her nose. Fine by me. I let her put her hand in there and feel the ribs and smoosh some parts around. I separated the intestines and other unwanted parts and threw them in the garbage bag. Almost finished!
We rinsed and scraped and wiggled. Finally, we had a dressed chicken. Coincidentally, why do they call it a dressed chicken when it’s as naked as it can get? Chef sarcasm? Who knows. We bundled up our work: I got the guts and she got the glory, so to speak. We sauntered into the living room naked chicken dangling from her hands. The kids were quite interested. “What’s that?!” I said, “It’s a chicken for dinner.” They smiled from ear to ear. “Oh, can I have chocolate milk please?” They weren’t as concerned about Benny as I thought.
I cleared out the kitchen sink for the water-vinegar solution bath for our little friend to have a soak. Vinegar has many uses I’m finding. The antibacterial property of vinegar is one that comes into play here. So we soaked Benny’s useful parts in our sink bath. “Do I put the giblets in too?” “Stop asking me stuff about giblets, I have no idea!” I washed my hands and got out the largest pot I own for Benny’s hot tub debut.
I let her put in salt and whatever else she wanted. She didn’t want much, just the chicken. I didn’t ask what she was going to do with it - I didn’t care. As Benny was enjoying his spa treatment, I continued on with laundry and normal housework. She decided the best place to keep poop chicken feet wrapped in a plastic sack was our freezer, and sat back down at the computer.
After a while, the deliciously sickening smell of chicken filled the house. Chicken is good, don’t get me wrong. But shove your hands up a chicken’s hoo-ha and you’ll want pizza that night. I turned the stove off once Benny was done and let the broth start to cool down. It was going to be dinner soon. Maybe we’d have macaroni and cheese.
At 5:30pm, my sister suddenly said, “I have to work at 6!” Our house was about a 20 minute drive from her work. I glanced at the pot of salted bath water with hot floating meat. She knew what I was thinking. I didn’t want to have to clean up this mess. “Can we put that pot in your fridge until tomorrow?” “NO! You’re taking him with you.” She furrowed her eyebrows at me. “I don’t have a way to take it with me.” I got out my Mommy-Is-Mad voice. “Take the pot with you. Here is the lid. Here are 2 potholders. Put it in your car. What you do with it from there is your business. Just get it outta here. If you leave it here it’s going in the garbage. I’m not dealing with it.” She sunk in her chair, then stood up to start complying with my demands. “Do you at least want the broth?” “NO!” I screamed it almost before she was done with her syllables.
She scurried around the kitchen cleaning up and getting her to-go pot ready for transport. I was seriously finished with all this chicken butchering business. She left her Asian Friends feet treats in the freezer on accident, and just as on accident, they went in the garbage as soon as I realized what the wrapped freezer mass was. When my sister closed the door behind her, chicken bath pot lounging on the floorboards of her Nissan, I turned to Ryan and said, “I’ve been thinking that it would be more worth it to raise turkeys. More meat, you know?” Ryan got out his Daddy-Is-Mad voice. “NO!”
Maybe I’ll just stick with eggs.