Monday, August 26, 2013

EL ROJO (Attitude In Red)

            His name was El Rojo. He was a rooster. I got him from Jeremiah Mavis when I lived in almost-Arkansas Missouri. Jeremiah Mavis was an Arkansas Ridge Runner. Big, raw-boned and redheaded, he was of hearty Ozark stock. His biggest claims to fame were his wife’s newly installed bosoms, and the Arkansas record crappie on his trailer wall.

            Jerry assumed all northerners to be ignorant, but for some reason he took a shine to me and would do almost anything, as long as it didn’t involve work, to assist in my southern education. Jerry operated on the fringes of the law. He made moonshine back in the hills somewhere, spotlighted deer on a regular basis, and kept fighting chickens. Cock fighting qualified as major entertainment in that area in those days, and Jerry had several prime contenders. When Sheriff Cletus F. “Bo” Dawkins shut Jerry’s operation down, he was left with more roosters than a man needed. I ran into him at the lumberyard. We jawed for a while and I informed him I was about ready to install eight hens in a chicken coop I was building.

            “Gotchee a rooster?” he asked.

            “Not yet.”

            “Naow, I’ll tell yew whut,” he went on. “Yew git thet thar coop set up, an’ I’ll gitchee a rooster thet’ll wear them girls plumb out! Git twenny-tew aigs a day outa them eight hens a yourn. Lemme know when yer ready.” Jerry was prone to exaggeration.

            I told him I’d call when it was rooster time and he asked to borrow a rifle to do a little hunting that night. It seems that Sheriff Dawkins had confiscated Jerry’s gun the week before. Nothing came without strings when dealing with Jerry.

            A few days later, chicken coop, feeder, waterer, nest boxes and hens in place, I called him about his offer of a rooster. He showed up a couple of hours later in road gear on an old Ford tractor. Apparently his truck wasn’t running again. He had a rooster in a sack and my rifle, badly in need of cleaning, on his lap.

            “Got ‘im rachear in this bag,” he grinned. “Son, this hyar is a, by Gawd, rooster! I wuz gonna fight ‘im, but naow I cain’t.”

            He held the sack over the edge of the chicken wire and dumped out the biggest rooster I’d ever seen.

            “His name’s El Rojo!” Jerry crowed. “Ain’t he somthin’?”

            He was something, indeed. Over two feet tall in various shades of red, he was steely of eye and belligerent in attitude. He peered at me briefly, then attacked me through the fence.

            “His wangs is clipped naow,” Jerry advised me as he climbed back aboard the tractor. “Ya’ll might wanna keep ‘em cut back some. I speck ol’ El Rojo’ll fly like a turkey if’n yew don’t. Have fun, Yankee!” He roared off down the lane.

            Some fun. Every time I got near the pen, Rojo was there, watching and waiting for another opportunity to attack me. Fearless, predatory, intimidating he was, and for several weeks I worked around that bird. Whenever I was in the chicken yard I had to watch my back, periodically ducking him as he flapped at my face, trying to spur me. The hens loved him, pumping out eggs like machines. Large, brown, often double-yolked, golden-centered specimens of the layers art poured forth in glorious bounty and I was glad to have them, but I paid a heavy price in dealing with that murderous rooster. Finally, I had all I could take.

            On the way to gather eggs one day, my job because of the obvious danger, I picked up a length of oak two-by-two and informed my questioning wife that I was going to kill that damn bird if he even looked at me sideways. Enough was enough. I was one step into the chicken yard when he came at me, chest high, spurs extended. I laid a swing on him that would have done credit to Babe Ruth and, when Rojo hit the ground, I knew he was dead. I picked him up by the feet and tossed him in the bed of my old Chevy truck to be disposed of later. Eating that rooster was out of the question.

            Later in the day I went back to the truck. The bird was gone. I assumed a raccoon or coyote had made off with him until that evening when I went to put up the girls. There he was, pacing with the hens from his position outside the fence. As I approached him, he eyed me lovingly and began to voice that particular chicken purr of contentment. He fell in beside me, walking where I walked, stopping where I stopped, staying close to me with the loyalty of a dog and offering me no hostility whatever. And so it went. From that day forward, when I worked outside, I would let him out of the pen and he was my companion. Clucking and purring as we went about our business. He learned to take a single kernel of corn from between my lips, without his beak touching my skin. He did his job admirably, keeping the hens happy and the egg basket full. His glorious crackling crow would echo around the place, his clucking would greet me as I’d approach the pen while he’d pace back and forth asking to be let out. He’d even sit in the porch swing with me, from time to time, and enjoy the evening breeze. Nothing else, people, dogs, cats, or pigs, could get close to him. He’d attack on sight, but he was devoted to me. When the time came, after nearly two years, for us to leave the place I did not know what to do with him. We gave the hens away, but El Rojo was so nasty to anyone but me nobody would have a thing to do with him.

            About a quarter mile behind the house, just in the edge of a patch of woods, was a spring-fed stock pond, a waterhole for various wild denizens in the area. I walked Rojo back there the evening we were ready to leave, scattered a gallon or so of chicken feed out in the weeds, and gently tied his leg to a small sapling with a piece of twine I was sure he could easily peck through. As I walked away he called to me, and I could hear him struggle with his bonds. I didn’t have the heart to look back.

            Well over a year later, I had occasion to visit an ex-neighbor lady who lived near that pond. At dusk, as I was preparing to leave, I heard a glorious crackling crow wafting up from the woods. I stopped and listened with appreciation.

            “Thet’s thet rooster ya’ll left by the pond when ya moved away,” she said. “Nasty bird. Won’t let ya near that pond unless ya carry a big stick. Ya got a stick, he’ll just chirp at ya, an’ follow right along like a dog.”

            It’s always nice to learn that old friends are doing well.





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Sunday, August 18, 2013


            The movie starred Mel Gibson and Helen Hunt. My wife and I loved it. “What Women Want” is a very enjoyable romantic comedy about a male chauvinist pig who can, all of a sudden, hear what women are thinking. It also caused Laura and me to do some thinking about the battle of the genders. So far there is no clear winner, but women seem to be ahead on points…at least that’s what they’d like us to believe.

            Now before any feminine hackles start to rise, let me say that I’d like to see women win the fight, especially if they could do it in the next thirty seconds or so. I’m sick and tired of it all. I would readily admit defeat just to stop all the carnage, but unfortunately, my personal surrender would have no effect on the battle as a whole. I’d break ranks and run away, but that’s tough to do when you’re surrounded. I’ve tried screaming “Please don’t hurt me, I give up!” but the noise of the American Women’s Battle Cry drowns out my feeble shout. You know it. Many of you even utter it from time to time.

Men just don’t understand us!”

            Ladies, you’re right. We don’t. We absolutely, positively, do not understand women. The statement is a generality that is completely correct, as long as it is not applied to specifics. When it is applied to specifics, it is as absurd as any other sexist, racist, hateful utterance on the planet. Tell me men don’t understand women all day long, I have no problem. But if you tell me that I do not understand women because I am a man, smile.

            Even though I freely admit my guilt and complicity in the ongoing conflict, there are some double standards that irk me a bit. If a woman says “my husband just doesn’t understand me”, the rest of us, male and female alike, are supposed to look at her sympathetically and say “aaawwww”. If a man says “my wife just doesn’t understand me”, the rest of us look around for the poor, unsuspecting barfly he’s saying it to. Which brings me to another point. Be advised, I’m using the term “I” in the broadest possible sense, as a generality applying to men as a group, not to any specific man.

            If it is true that men are from Mars and women are from Venus, then women are not from Venus and Mars. If I do not understand you because we are from different planets, what the hell makes you think you have such a firm grip on what makes me tick? Answer: You don’t.  Difference? I don’t expect you to understand me, and when you don’t, I don’t worry my pretty little head about it.

            There is a great deal of psychobabble out there on how little boys are programmed to be warlike, sidewalk-spitting, crotch-clutching, beetle-browed clods, and more than a little of it is true. Little girls are programmed, too. They are taught to keep some mystery in a relationship, to not give too much of themselves, emotionally or physically, away. They are also taught that they will have to suffer in one way or another at the hands and will of men. Then they are given various visions of prince charming, or vine covered cottages, or perfect picket fences, and told to aspire to them. Women have been taught fear and fantasy. Just like the guys, gals, you bought into the bull. We have all been misled, all of us. Let me say that again. ALL OF US.

            We have had stereotypes thrown at us from earliest memory, and our internal computers were programmed, whether we liked it or not, by generation after generation of people whose only qualification to be parents was the fact that somebody could get somebody else pregnant. We are, for the most part, composites of what we have been told we should be, what we have emulated from experience, or what we have run from because of fear. Even in our overreactions to sex, ours or somebody else’s, we are not consistent. Homosexual men, for the most part, get along with women fine, even love them dearly. Homosexual women are often antagonistic to men, especially those who strive so hard to appear male themselves.

            Let’s get back to the original question. What do women want? I don’t know, and neither do most women, for the very reasons I mentioned earlier. I suspect, in their heart of hearts, it’s much simpler than we have been led to believe. Fortunately, in my life, I have enjoyed association with a number of remarkable women, and what they seemed to most desire is also what most men want, when all the B.S. is scraped away. Love. Men and women don’t have to understand each other to love each other. Parents don’t need to understand their children, or children their parents. Love soars above all that.  It’s up to us to stop pointing fingers and making demands, and realize that while men may never understand women, and women may never understand men, a person can at least come close to understanding another person, even if one is male and the other female. When the generalities are dropped, it ain’t them against us any more. It’s just the two of you, each with the with the standard issue BS that comes with the respective gender, and each with plenty of love to go around once fear gets out of the way. It’s all part of a plan that we understand even less than we understand each other.