Fowl play in the Marigny: A Journal
This story is a tail of ruffled feathers. Though presented in diary form, the dates are arbitrary, but the timeline and the events are true. Some names have been changed to protect the infuriated.
I hate that rooster.
He has been making the rounds in our little section of the Marigny for weeks now. Quite the cock of the block, strutting around in all his gallinaceous arrogance, acting like he owns the place. He trumpets about it all day long, marking his territory in, as near as I can guess, at least a two-block radius. He has a companion, a little nondescript gray hen, who doesn't really bother anybody. But that rooster.
He is becoming the only topic of conversation on our block. A lot of my neighbors want him gone. Some of them want him dead. None has had the opportunity, or the willingness, to make that happen. At least not yet.
He begins crowing very early in the morning and continues, more or less constantly, into the early afternoon. He usually starts his day in the back yard of John's house, across the street from me. From my bed, his night-rattling reckonings sound muted and distant, like the hazy nostalgia of a farmer's daydream. But to John, who lives in that house, and my friend Courtney, who lives adjacent, the ungodly wake-up calls drive them just about crazy enough to entertain chicken murder fantasies.
“I'm full of quotes about that rooster," Courtney said, when I asked if she wanted to say anything on record. "Mainly about how I want him to die." Courtney must get up very early for work as it is, and the rooster denies her precious sleep by waking her at 4 am on most mornings. "He's beautiful, though," she added, "so I do have moments where I don't want to kill him."
He does indeed have that going for him. That may be his best defense. His multi-colored coat dazzles in the afternoon light, and there's a plume of feathers running up to his head like the proud fighting colors of a Roman centurion.
Of course, he knows he's pretty. You can tell by the way he sticks his chest out, and marches across the street in defiance of a punchline.
I heard from Courtney that John has an old BB gun, and he thinks he's still a decent shot. But his girlfriend forbids him to use it against the demon chicken.
I've noticed that the loud-mouthed chanticleer has a daily regimen, and he is pretty religious about it. After crowing all morning in John's backyard, he will walk the length of the house and flutter up atop the chainlink gate. I will see him from my front door, in the afternoon, screwing his head in both directions like a hyperactive wind-up toy, ruling his roost. If he notices me staring, he will twitch his tail and spit me an indignant glare. Chicken eyes. Crazy feathers.
Someone at the coffee shop, who lives around the corner, told me that he and the little gray hen had simply been abandoned when his keepers moved from the city. Whoever they were, I hope their new house is infested with poltergeists. Some people should never be allowed pets.
Now he is a renegade, a loner, a fugitive, and he is ubiquitous. Fences cannot contain him, and nothing, it seems, can silence him.
I was arriving home at the same time as John today. I casually mentioned that if a BB gun were to somehow wind up on my porch, that I would have no qualms about using it, and no girlfriend to stop me. John sighed as he walked into his house. “She would figure it out somehow,” he said, and I agreed that he was probably right.
I hate that rooster.
Today that demon-seed fowl officially became my nemesis. I looked outside and saw him, sitting on his usual perch atop the gate across the street. I was suddenly overcome with an urge to teach this rooster a lesson. I approached him while he sat on the fence. His concubine, the little gray hen, ran immediately under a car, keeping her distance. The rooster clucked loudly as he fluttered to the ground, then hurried up the street in a zig-zag stumble. I chased after him, but half-heartedly. I just wanted to see him run. Anyway, I didn't have a real plan if I were to actually catch him. Courtney and I had joked about capturing him and releasing him on a distant highway. But with just my bare hands, I figured he would scratch my eyes out before I got him into my car. I am not equipped for proper rooster removal.
We ended up back where we started, and he glared at me with a feverish squint, opening his beak in a silent scream, as if threatening to blow the horn on my impudence. Stupid rooster.
The Ides of March. That bird had better be careful. I've been talking to other people around the neighborhood lately, to see what they're saying. Let's just say that it isn't real popular to be a feral chicken around here.
“You mean, that rooster from hell?” said Harold, another of my neighbors, who lives down an adjacent block. “That thing is gonna wind up cooked one of these days.” Like everyone else, he acknowledged that it was one fine looking rooster, and he didn't really have it in him to do the deed himself. But he offered sinister advice for anyone else who might be entertaining the idea. “You soak him in wine for like a day, get rid of that toughness in the meat.” Interesting. This was something I had not considered.
A commotion outside in the street just now. A few people gathered by the coffee shop on the corner, and the rooster standing in the middle of the intersection. There is some laughter and conversation, as they admire his beautiful coat, and his audacity of spirit. Then, cutting the air, an old woman's voice shouting: “That rooster is an asshole!” She repeats it several times, to no one, and to everyone, in particular, as if to betray the secret life of a beloved politician or movie star to his adoring fans. He does seem to have attained a kind of celebrity status, but it's the kind of celebrity you get from being a jerk in public, and not caring one little bit. Like Charlie Sheen or Justin Bieber.
Mr. Cock-a-doodle-doo is making his infernal rounds. It's late in the afternoon now. I think he is alone. I haven't seen any sign of the little tag-along hen lately. Chances are that she ended up in someone's cozy backyard chicken coop, or perhaps a not-so-cozy boiling pot. Not him though. That rooster is nothing if not a survivor. So why do I hate him so much?
I found out today that at least one person has notified the LA/SPCA. It was Robert, a neighbor who lives in the apartment building up the street. He introduced himself while passing in front of my house, and asked me how I felt about the rooster. It's funny he should ask.
“I sent them a letter,” he said. I didn't know people still sent letters. “They did get back to me, and said they would forward the information to ... whoever is supposed to deal with that.”
I did a little research. Apparently, as of two years ago, roosters are officially illegal to keep in Orleans, due to changes in a city ordinance governing those sorts of things. According to one source, it is the responsibility of the owner to notify Animal Control. Failing that, the LA/SPCA will eventually pick it up, and then euthanize it.
Though he has lost a lot of sleep lately, Robert doesn't want to see the bird killed. He would just like it to be gone.
“It's just so annoying,” he mused, and then added, “he really is a beautiful rooster, though.” He sure is, Robert. Beautiful like a Trojan horse.
My epic struggle with the rooster just reached its denouement. I had him in my figurative crosshairs, and I blinked.
I was pulling up in front of my house and preparing to park, when he strutted out in front of my car and stopped there, about two feet in front of my wheel. We had a little moment, the two of us. All I had to do was step on the gas, and that would be it. I would be a neighborhood hero. My neighbors would celebrate, and speak my name with fond admiration. They would probably leave flowers and baskets of food on my porch, perhaps name a pastry after me at the cafe on the corner.
He was daring me.
I imagined the grotesque sensation I would feel as my car rolled over the soft lump, feathers shooting onto the sidewalk like dead foliage out of a leaf blower. The soul-rending clucks would be haunting, but the sudden dead silence from under the car would be worse, and then there would be the aftermath.
I honked, and he scuffled out of the way. I have no affection for that rooster. But I just couldn't do it. I parked the car and got out. He was standing in the middle of the intersection, grimacing at me. He turned in a circle, bobbing his feathery tush as if to mock me, lifting his wings in a recalcitrant dance, and opening his beak wide with squeaking derision. I took a few steps toward him and he hopped in another circle, then sauntered on his little gargoyle feet down the street. I turned and headed for my house. I got to the porch and looked back just in time to see him open up his wings and fly, or catapult himself, about 14 feet into the air, coming to rest on the branch of a big tree that hangs out over the intersection. I had to admit, it was an impressive stunt. Once there, he began crowing at full siren. He thinks he won, I thought to myself. He thinks this is over, but this is not over.
I must admit, however, that I am reassured by my own restraint.
Today I got to thinking that the rooster might stand as a curious metaphor for the gentrification of the neighborhood, and the sudden epidemic of “noise” issues -- such as the war on live music -- that has been in the news a lot these days, not to mention the courts. He may even be a symbol, an avatar for the last bastion of reckless freedom that many longtime residents have seen shimmer into oblivion over the decade since Katrina. Property values rise and local sensibilities are diluted by the refinement and arrogance of newcomers from both coasts, arriving en masse from bigger, more “sophisticated” urban sprawls, with righteous ideas about how things ought to be done. They choose this place for the magic and the small-town quirky charm, and they stay just long enough to buy a house in the Marigny and flip it into an air bnb. I get the impression that amongst many rooted locals -- and I speak as an observer, being a relative newcomer myself -- that all of this change is anathema to the New Orleans they once knew, that an identity has been compromised.
I shared my thoughts with Courtney today, and she agreed that there is something spirited and symbolic about the rooster's presence here.
In some ways, one could argue, our rooster is the lonely voice, the noble guardian of a vanishing culture. The quiet dignity of the watchman. Except without the quiet, of course. If only there wasn't all that crowing.
“The reality of a stray rooster,” Courtney told me, “is way less romantic than the idea.”
His days of living free and easy may be numbered. He is certainly on the radar now, and Robert's notification to the LA/SPCA is probably not the first they have received.
But the wheels of bureaucracy move slowly, especially in this city, where they move glacially. I like to imagine them sending, eventually, a couple of guys in blue jumpsuits, with big butterfly nets on long poles, maybe one short plump guy and one long skinny guy. Maybe they are like the bungling pair of housebreakers from the Home Alone movies, or the incompetent cartoon dogcatchers in the 101 Dalmatians thing. A big part of me wants him gone, but another big part of me hopes he sends them into a catastrophe of activity, a noisy prolonged circus act, featuring man vs. poultry, so that they have to call out the zoo or the fire department or the FBI. Part of me really wants him to put up a fight. I'm beginning to kind of like that rooster.
I heard him off in the distance just a little while ago. He must be making his rounds, oblivious to his neighbors, driven only by his quest for sustenance, freedom and the mastery of his domain. He is the self-appointed King of the Marigny, or at least our little corner of it, and he won't be relinquishing his crown unless someone comes to take it away. Death to the King. Long live the King.
I love that rooster.
Steve Spehar is a New Orleans-based photographer, writer and actor. Reach him at [email protected], or visit his website at www.stevespeharphotography.com.