A rooster crows in NOLA
As part of NolaVie's Yeah you write! campaign, we invite readers to submit New Orleans-related content for a chance to have their work featured on our site. Whether it's a personal essay about moving from New Orleans, a photo of French Quarter Fest, or a video of a second line, we want to know: what's your New Orleans story
Today’s featured submission, about a 9th Ward rooster that nearly drove a man and his girlfriend mad, comes from Todd Henkin.
These are no ordinary roosters. They have no purpose. They're wild, they're loud, they have claws, and they are descended from dinosaurs. They hide behind potted plants and crow at you or jump out to scare you. They fly; I know that birds are supposed to fly so it shouldn't be surprising, but when a rooster flies it sends a chill down your spine. Have you ever seen a cockroach open its wings? You think, Holy crap! This must be the queen! Or imagine a rat flying, its sharp little teeth frozen in an open-mouthed smile as it floats through the city streets and subways.
The first few nights here I thought it was humorous. This sound is a caricature of a rooster noise. I've heard it a thousand times on TV or the radio. Think of the way it's spelled out for us: cock-a-doodle-doo. It's a children's book sound, an Old McDonald sound. It's not harmful or disturbing, just a silly little bird from the farm. But wait, after a few days, a few nights, less and less sleep, this sound takes on a new shape, a new story. Its innocence is stripped. A small-town denizen leaves the farm and lands somehow in the 9th Ward of New Orleans, working the corner in ugly makeup. A desperate, drunken Mardi Gras scream of shame.
My sleep slipping away from me like male pattern baldness, I decided to phone the appropriate New Orleans city authorities.
SPCA: “ Oh no, we can't help you with that. Those are considered WILD animals now. We don't deal with WILD animals, only domestic ones. You'll have to call the sheriff.”
SHERIFF: “Uh, (chuckles) we don't take care of birds. This is a problem for the SPCA, not ours ... oh ... they said that ... Ha! ... Well, I guess you're on your own.”
Apparently after the flood, people brought a Noah's Ark of animals to the SPCA, or caught them and freed them somewhere else, where, perhaps, it fit the new aesthetic, the Third World, the 9th Ward, or the 9th Weird, as I've dubbed it. I've been asking people since I moved here about these wild fowl, with mixed response.
The lady at the dollar store checkout: “HA! I've never heard anyone even talk about that.”
The older gentleman down the street: “I tried to get the SPCA out here, but they came too late in the day and by the time they got here they weren't all in the same spot any more. I don't know what to do anymore. I hope you give it a try.”
The skinny, older, drug-using neighbor across the street sat on my stoop and looked up at me with glowing eyes: “Just get me a gun and I'll take care of the problem. I'll take care of all of them” (points an imaginary gun slowly around the neighborhood and kicks it back with each shot).
I consulted the Internet, like any modern problem solver. Apparently these roosters are docile if you catch them when they're drowsy, just before they roost. You have to find their roosting spot and await the moment when they're about to hit the hay and then ... whatever one would choose to take care of the problem.
For a few nights I wandered the yard with a flashlight, searching for sleeping birds. They weren't under the house or in the yard. I didn't want to snoop into anyone else's yard and started to feel hopeless.
Ear plugs weren't solving the problem either, even the expensive silicon ones from Walgreens. I needed help -- soldiers, friends, whatever it took. I wrote a desperate Craigslist ad and posted it. Here's how it went:
I NEED HELP! These roosters crow until they're hoarse, all day all night. They wander the streets like a gang, confidant and causing mayhem. I'm not a natural born killer and would like to catch them and either drive them to a farm or to the SPCA. I’m new to New Orleans and could use some partnership in cornering them and or strategy and tools. Do they bother you, too? Are you looking for adventure or a good story? Contact me. I need to sleep and these roosters need to go! Thanks, Todd
My only response: Welcome to NO. Can you spell pellet gun and chicken andouille gumbo? Don't cha know ya gonna love it, I'm happy you are here. I'll even help you prepare and cook. Where are you from? I used to think they could cook in Milwaukee haha this is the flavor capital. Try the Tom Fitzmorris show 1350 AM 12-3 p.m. You'll love and learn a lot. Keep in touch. I'm proud to speak to you. Love JC
JC is proud of me. Unfortunately, I don't think this bird is safe to eat. He wanders the dirty streets and eats all kinds of nasty stuff. It'd be like eating a big pigeon. Thanks for the encouragement, but no thanks to the offer, JC.
I've named him F*ck. F*ck the rooster. He sleeps in the tree outside my window. Flashing my flashlight up into the branches one drunken evening, I saw him there, his dirty feathers barely showing any of that sheen for which roosters are known and appreciated. He sat there in luxury, comfortably asleep or a-roost. I carefully aimed, one eye closed and winged a skinny rock at him. It turned in the air, cutting the wind like an arrowhead without the arrow and then Squawk! I knocked him out of the tree. He flapped, half-flew down and ran under the neighbor's house. Later in the night he hopped back up and nestled into his spot again, where he announced his position once again throughout the night and early morning.
I found a dead one in the backyard the other day. Not sure what to do with it, I picked it up by the claws and carried it across the yard. This was the closest I'd come to one. He stank of death and wet-wild animal. Another unmistakeable aroma drifted across the yard. A neighbor smoking a blunt on the other side of the fence called over to me between smoky breaths. I stood there holding the rooster's dead half-rotted body, and I told him about my problem. He informed me with confidence that scaring a rooster a few times in a row would be enough to send him flapping for good. He told me they run every time they see him now.
Every night for the next few, hoping he wouldn't come back, I knocked him out of his tree with stones and yelled insults at him. “Get out of here rooster! Never come back, you f*cker!” He didn't listen. Every morning, Groundhog's Day, I woke to the same annoying song.
My new plan became to catch him and take him somewhere to release him … I envisioned my success ... a suitcase full of roosters that I'd carry around, like Antonio Banderas and his guitar case of guns. If people messed with me, I'd open the zipper just enough for one of these bad boys to come out, filthy disheveled feathers and all, crowing and scratching, swelling their chests, pecking the enemies' eyes out.
He moved branches, now roosting on the very top of the tree, protected in a wooden fortress where I could no longer hit him with rocks without danger of hitting the neighbor's home. I began looking on Craigslist for a set of bow and arrows and collected two good slingshot branches. I asked myself the age-old question of anyone going into battle: “Am I a killer?”
I put my earplugs in that night, transforming my mind into an airtight jar of desperate thoughts and tried to sleep through the turbulence. The next morning I awoke to a different noise. I wasn't the only hunter in town.
I've had my troubles with white pit bulls, having survived an attack, with a bite to the face, a few years ago. I don't usually feel much love for them. However, despite my history, I'd been growing a bit fond of Tiger the pit bull from a distance. I felt bad for him on his short chain. The limit of his abilities in that junk-filled yard is to drag himself and his heavy iron chain up on top of his trashy, cramped igloo dog house. Every day he drags his body up on top of that igloo, looking out at the roosters walking freely about the backyard, crowing all day and night. It must tear him up.
A few days later my girlfriend, Kelly, and I shot up in the early morning darkness to the sound of something enormous and powerful rumbling under the house. In our slumber, we decided it must be a dragon, awakening angry and fierce under our house. Crash! Slam! I got up and ran to the back door to see if I could see what in the world was causing this racket. What I saw out there … it was beautiful.
Tiger had finally reached the end of his chain. He'd broken from his slavery and was dragging it around the yard like a metal tail, terrorizing the scampering rooster. After circling around the downed branches, through the raised beds and various collections of scrap metal, leaving a braided pattern in the mud as I shouted encouragingly, Tiger bounded after that hideous creature into the street and disappeared.
Seeing him chasing that rooster, my heart filled with love for dogs of all kinds. Man's best friend! He'd escaped, facing whatever punishment would inevitably come to help with my mission to rid us forever of this dark demon bird prince.
Unfortunately, though I imagined Tiger had either ripped that rooster to shreds or scared him off forever, the next morning, at 3 a.m., the screeching returned. I'd ditched my ear plugs with hope of a quiet sleep, so this morning was particularly offensive.
Regardless of the outcome, I've been giving Tiger breakfast treats for his heroic efforts.
Kelly and I lay there in our bed, helpless. “We've got to do SOMETHING,” she said.
I pulled back the sheets, put on my jacket and shoes and went outside to see if he was in a reachable spot. Of course, there he was at the very top of the tree, crowing his lungs out. On that foggy morning, I heard the true breadth of what we were dealing with.
All throughout the neighborhood, the crowing resounded in different pitches, with different lengths, and in the distance, somewhere, it sounded as though they had a lair. A low drone of crows mixed and swirled like smog on the horizon, charlatans to the not-yet-rising sun. An ambulance sounded in the distance, matching their drone and dancing around it higher and lower in its squeals. Then a police car from another side of the city wailed, shorter and more urgent.
NOISE! It all blended into itself in that moment -- a cacophony of emergency. The 9th Weird. I knew then that I'd never have silence here. That's for people who live in the desert or the mountains. I moved to a city. Of course I'll have to accept some of its noise, but there must be something one man can do to keep his sanity.
When I awoke the following morning, darkness had spread over the 9th. I put on my climbing shoes and grabbed a bamboo pole from a big pile of them in the yard. With Kelly's small shivering hands pointing the flashlight up into the tree, I located him and knocked him from his branch. Once again, he flew to his escape, this time onto the neighbor's roof. There he stared at me and waited. I went inside and made dinner. I would need the strength of a good meal.
Immediately as we had finished eating I heard the flapping of wings, the rustling of leaves, and then the bone-chilling bravado of a loud and proud enemy. He called out to me and said, “I'm back, you bastard, and I'll never leave!”
I gathered some rocks and began throwing them with more strength, more abandon. One landed on the roof of the neighbor's house with a clunk and Kelly scampered inside. I kept throwing until I ran out of my supply. I needed a new idea. Searching through a pile in the yard I found a giant 30-foot pole.
“Kellyyyyyyyyyy! Looooooooook!” I crazily shouted from the yard. I knew this would give me the length I needed to knock him out of any branch. He'd never be safe from me.
I dragged the pole through the yard. Tiger stood on top of his igloo quietly watching me, encouraging me with his eyes. I carefully angled the pole upwards at a 45-degree angle and flashed the flashlight up to see if I had it right. F*ck looked down at me defiantly but with a bit of uncertainty, as he felt my plan in action. Kelly came outside to watch.
With a sharp prod, I lunged forward with the pole and felt the weight of his resistance at the end.
“AHHHHHHH!” he screamed as he flew from the tree and landed on concrete. Seemingly confused from the blow and in his semi-slumber, instead of hiding under the house or flying onto the neighbor's roof, he scurried quickly out beyond the gate and into the street.
“Come on, Kelly! Let's go!”
We ran out into the deserted street. Scampering through the puddles of standing water and broken pavement he ran under the streetlights away from the house. We weren't far behind -- Kelly with a flashlight and me with a broomstick. He slowed down at our neighbor's house, as the neighbor came outside and bumped into us. He couldn't help but notice the crazed look on our faces and the raised broom pole. Thinking we were about to attack him, he backed off.
“Whoa, dude! What are you doing?” our neighbor asked.
“We're chasing a rooster," I answered. "Excuse us.”
“Don't kill it.”
“You don't understand,” I said.
The rooster took off again and we ran around our neighbor after him. There was no time for discussion. He ran around the corner and into a stranger's yard. I heard the flapping of wings and my heart sank. He was on top of a wooden fence. Noticing the lights were on and that we would be in full view if the tenants of this place looked out their window, I quietly crept toward the fence. He perched there, daring me to act. Just within reach, I swung and landed a blow to his body and knocked him backward off the fence. I hadn't swung with full force, but the contact was the hardest yet. I looked back at Kelly and our mutual exchange of looks was one of confusion. He'd escaped again?
As we turned to go home, we saw him again. He'd made a dash for it back to the house, to the tree, where it would all start over again. We thought that we'd chased him far enough. I thought my strikes with the pole would be a warning to never return. I thought of Tiger and his snapped chain, squeezing his massive body under our house in frustration. I thought of Ron, our roommate, calmly telling us as we toured the house not to sign a lease because he wasn't sure if we'd be able to take the rooster problem. I thought of all the chickens I'd eaten, a giant mass of flesh, probably a thousand in my lifetime, never having killed any of them. I'd been a coward. If I am to be a meat eater, I have to have the courage to kill.
We sprinted after him and somehow overtook him with our speed. With Kelly on one side and me on the other, we had him surrounded. He turned around and tried to run through the fence. It was hopeless. He opened his wings and sqwuawked. With all my strength this time I swung my pole, aiming for his head. The first strike hit him just behind the neck and he slowed. Quickly I swung again in the opposite direction. It proved to be the killing strike. He collapsed onto the pavement, shuddered once and died.
I looked around me, dizzied with adrenaline, and saw Kelly's face. She was frightened. We heard people coming out of their houses and walked quickly away, leaving the dead rooster on the sidewalk. I carried my weapon with me, my brain moving at a thousand miles an hour, a killer fleeing the scene of the crime.
Luckily, no one who came outside noticed the dead body. They talked for a bit, got in their cars, and left. I grabbed a shovel from the backyard and retrieved the corpse for burial. Carrying my vanquished enemy in front of me, I bellowed out to Tiger that I had gotten him. Kelly wasn't sure if she had it in her to look at the body. She was my accomplice, though, and I needed her to be there with me for the final act. I also needed light on the ground.
With her shaky hands holding the circle of light on the ground, I dug a hole as deep as I could around the roots of a bunch of cut-down trees and laid his body into it. Before dumping the dirt back o,n I bent down and plucked off one of his long black and white tail feathers.
“I'm sorry it came to this rooster,” I told F*ck. “You were a formidable enemy.”
“We love you,” Kelly continued. “We're sorry. In your next life, come back smarter.”
“Kelly! I don't need a smart enemy in my next life! Take it back.”
“Ok, well, I hope you have a good next life,” Kelly corrected.
“Sorry again,” I said.
The next morning we awoke after a good night's sleep, our first in weeks. I felt great and called my dad to tell him about his hunter son. For some reason, I asked my mom to get off the phone so I could tell him only.
I'm a bit haunted by that moment under the streetlight, but I feel it was necessary. This place will have more challenges, but now I know that I'm a warrior when needed. When the moment came, I didn't think; I acted and took care of the problem.
So far the tree has remained empty, at least for now.
Please note that NolaVie does not condone the killing of animals, however loud they may be. We do, however, appreciate good writing. Send comments to [email protected].