The Mushroom Farmer, Book Two, Chapter 7

The mf has much to do. First, find Plucky. Where is she? Probably laying an egg in a secret hiding place. Although usually at this time of the morning, 8 am, Plucky is milling about in or flying the coop. The mf theorizes that she has both flown the coop and is laying an egg in a secret hiding place. If a hawk had gotten to her, he would have found the eviscerated carcass, as he learned from the sad, sad discovery of what happened to Clucky. If some other non-hawk varmint — snake, skunk — had gotten to her, even if the cursed varmint had dragged her away, there would be feathers.

Plucky is off in a secret hiding place, laying an egg.

Yes.

The mf feels better now. The main thing he has to do is build a temporary coop for the NEW HENS. Three Rhode Island Reds, currently huddled within a three-foot diameter circle of chicken wire, further surrounded by all the garbage cans, serving as sentries. Hens are excellent huddlers. These three hens fit nicely into a medium-sized box the mf put in the cab of a rented truck and drove home from East San Diego County without a single bird flying out of the box and creating a ruckus with the mf at the wheel on the 405.

Instead, they huddled. The mf is going to build them a temporary coop adjacent to the classic coop, out by the cherry trees. The cherry trees are starting to blossom and could benefit from the extra chicken poop, further theorizes the mf. He has plenty of two-by-fours and chicken wire left over from the banana tree chicken run, demolished after his wife pointed out that it appeared to have been constructed by a person not in their right mind. The mf feels proud to have salvaged those materials and now on the verge of re-using them as in re-use, reduce, recycle. The mf as global citizen!

Go ahead and feel that pride, mf. I sense through my intense mf-telepathy that you are planning to dig a trench a good foot down, to discourage burrowing varmints from getting into the temporary coop. That’s smart. You can expect no mercy from these varmints. They will burrow, they will claw. A foot might not even be deep enough but it’s better than no trench.

And here comes Plucky, right on schedule. She did indeed fly the coop. All is well, for now.

*

The mf’s sense of steadfast hen stewardship lasted for nine hours, then descended rapidly, like a container of oatmeal falling off a shelf, into an even stronger sense of pitiful incompentence. I can see him now, the last lingering emanations of sunset fading, faded; the mf still out in the wayback of the yard, getting repeated facefuls of chicken wing while struggling to secure the temporary coop.

There was some good news amid the rout. For example, the new hens are nice. They did not claw at him. The negligible amount of actual blood drawn could have resulted as much from the mf scratching himself on the little bits of wire he was frantically twisting together as from incidental contact with footloose chicken feet.

Frankly, the mf is the one who was frenzied, not the birds, who I would describe more as ebullient. They saw and emphatically took the opportunities presented by the mf’s negative handiwork in assembling an utterly ramshackle temporary coop. You would bust a move too if you had spent four of the past twenty four hours in a box, and the next twenty surrounded by garbage cans. Not even the mf, beside himself with frustration, could blame them for cutting loose.

Impressive and still surprising wingspan, he noted, with the shred of sentient thought still hanging, tattered flag-like, in his brainpan. The rest was a mush of self-recrimination, dehydration, and determination to get this fucking coop put together so that the new birds would still be alive in the morning. Honestly, though, what was the rush? They would certainly be happy to roost in a big ol’ matilija poppy bush, which afforded them exactly as much protection as nature provided.

Frenzied persistence in a failed cause is often a sign of dehydration, the mf knows from the time he forgot how to put the chain back on the rear derailleur after changing a flat on the LA River bike trail. He had become disoriented on the return trip from Jane Hancock’s writing group somewhere just after Auto Row in Glendale. East had become West, North but a rumor, South out of the picture entirely, replaced by a terrain of unfamiliar railroad tracks and foreboding warehouses. The soundtrack of the mf’s mind welled up ominously as he pedaled along in the increasingly delirious faith that the river trail had to be around here somewhere. This faith was rewarded by his ultimately connecting with the trail, but it was also offset by dehydration, loss of sanity, and also a flat tire.

A part of the mf will always be slumped against a retaining wall in Frog Town, peering desperately at bikes as they whiz by, trying to see how the chain is connected to the rear derailleur. Finally he pleaded for help from a friendly-looking dad trailing a tot on a tricycle. The mf sputtered his dilemma and the friendly dad, who said he knew nothing about bike mechanics, proved to be a man of his word. However, as so often happens, asking for help flipped the switch, and shortly after dad and tot bid the mf a fond farewell, the chain slipped into place and the mf wobbled home.

Three Rhode Island Red hens rehearsing their part in re-make of The Great Escape
twist-tie strong

He thought of that and other abject episodes while attempting in the post-twilight to construct a dome of chicken wire that would give the new hens room to stand up and turn around and take a few steps in each direction. He had spent a good chunk of the afternoon assembling and at twilight abandoning what might be charitably described as a shitshow, oh my god, what is it with the mf and his belief that the twist-tie is a construction material? Why does he persist in believing that because his shirt buttons get caught in plastic mesh, even a docile hen will not hesitate to snip right through it with her beak?

Dehydration is often the best answer I can come up with for some of the mf’s antics. I’ve been studying him for a long time and that mysteries remain is admittedly part of the attraction. There is also the fun, I will say, that comes with seeing someone who demonstrates passing competence in certain areas — family, we can agree, and also (though it was a long time coming) the teaching profession — still, the question giddily lingers, how can the mf be such a total fuck-up when it comes to building a chicken coop. I mean, how hard would it be, really, to sink four eight-foot two-by-fours a foot deep, staple-gun a perimeter of chicken-wire around them, drape mesh over the top and sides, and be done.

Except, wait a second, in that design, where is the door? Uh-oh. Well… human civilization has has had the answer to this problem for many thousands of years. The mf is lagging but to his credit is not out of the race. And let’s also note that the new birds are still alive this morning, so that’s good. He is going to try building a credible coop again today, what a gamer, what he lacks in mechanical know-how and perhaps common sense he at least partially makes up in stick-to-it-tive-ness, one of my favorite words.

Published by MarkGozonsky

Mark Gozonsky has been writing stories and essays since he was a music snob prodigy in early-1970's San Antonio, Texas. Since then he has written about not only music but also baseball, gardening, teaching, parenting, cycling and the... glory of love. Lit Hub and The Sun have published his work, and so has the Austin Chronicle. He lives with his wife in Los Angeles, where he teaches English to some of the nicest kids in the world at an arts-themed public high school downtown.

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