FEAR AND CHICKENS IN LAS VEGAS
by Garrett Gilchrist, Orange Cow Productions
with apologies to raoul duke and hunter thompson
We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the chickens began to cross the road. I remember saying something like “I feel a bit lightheaded; maybe we should get something to eat . . . .” And suddenly there was a terrible clucking all around us and the road was filled with what looked like hideous walking poultry, beaks and huge feathery wings, all screeching and hopping and flapping right in front of the car, which was going about a hundred miles an hour with the top down to Las Vegas. And a voice was screaming: “Holy Jesus! What are these goddamn animals?”
I slammed on the brakes. My fat Samoan attorney had pulled his shirt up and was chomping down the last of a Crispy McChicken sandwich, pouring tartar sauce all over his exposed gut to keep it moist. He half-looked at me and muttered “What the hell are you yelling about, man?” “Never mind,” I said, staring out into the feathery horizon. “It’s your turn to drive.” I got up and we switched seats. No point mentioning those chickens, I thought. The poor bastard will have to deal with them soon enough.
“Dammit man,” he said as the driver’s seat eased into his weight, “I can’t concentrate with all this clucking.” I glared at him. Measuring the shape of his skull. “Are you fit to drive?” I asked. “You need some medicine?” He shook his head. Sweat and gravy dribbled off of it. “I think I just gotta . . . . get away from all these chickens.” There were hundreds of them now, squawking and strutting like military officers in single file stretched out as far as the twisted eye could see. They were stopping traffic. What would Horatio Alger do?
KILL THE HEAD AND THE BODY WILL NOT IMMEDIATELY DIE
This line appears in my notebook for some reason. Perhaps some connection with Colonel Sanders. Is he still alive? Still able to talk? If he’s dead, did they preserve him in 11 herbs and spices? “Let them cross,” I heard myself saying. “They could prove useful.”
“What, you wanna smash their brains in with the tire jack and stuff ’em in the trunk for supper?” His thumb was fiddling with the sharpest knife I’ve ever seen.
“Maybe.” I said. “First I want to study their habits.”
I would see my attorney didn’t fully approve of my plans but the chickens outnumbered him, and they were on MY SIDE. You could see them crossing, one by one, a great pulsating wall of out-of-season game stretching out to the horizon, discounted poultry inching ever forward to cross the road as if it were what they were born to do. Maybe it meant something. Maybe not, in the long run, but no explanation, no mix or words or memories or sourdough rolls can touch that central sense of purpose those chickens gave off. They believed, somehow, that they could be better than life and history, madness, fear and loathing. They had something to accomplish. They had a road to cross.
“How many roads must a man walk down before you can call him a man?”
How many roads must a chicken cross? History is hard to know, because of all the hired chickens–t, but every now and then the energy of a whole species comes out in a long fine squawk for reasons nobody really understands at the time. They were that squawk, they were the great Las Vegas Chicken Wave of that fowl Year of our Lord, 1971, shuffling ever sideways on a lengthwise track, going on a real trip that needed no explanation or apology, searching for that perfect high that only comes from finding an instant’s home on that yellow line, knowing that just one of those specks of sunshine asphalt is your very own.
It was a futile gesture, of course. Most gestures are. Madness can be crossed in any direction, any hour. But they had the journey, a wild, awful chicken version of the American Dream. You could stare out into the desert skyline, just below where the center core of the sun hits hard enough to bleach a man’s bones white, and with the right kind of eyes you could almost see the par-boil mark – that place on the horizon where road and chicken finally met in poultry perfection.
I looked down. My fat attorney had stopped one of the chickens, and was offering him some cheap-grade blotter acid.
“Let him go, you idiot!” I said. “Can’t you see he prefers the harder stuff?” He dropped the acid to bake on the road and some of the artier chickens sniffed about it a bit. He slid back into the driver’s seat but I pushed him out again. I’d taken a big hit off his McChicken sandwich and felt more than fit to drive. We returned to our designated seats, and something in the natural order of the world flipped about 180º. The chickens were dispersing. The road was clearing up. Something in the backseat clucked.
“What’re you taking this chicken for?” I asked.
“He could prove useful.” A half-dozen white feathers were hanging off my attorney’s cheek.
“So, what do we do now?”
“As your attorney I advise you to drive extremely fast and we’ll sort out the details later.”
I took a swig of rum and slammed the accelerator to the floor. We sped forward, jarred only occasionally by the “whump” of a chicken meeting a fate unmentioned in any Horatio Alger book.
By this time I was laughing like a crazy man. But it made no difference. We were off to Vegas, three modern monsters in search of the American Dream; on the move, and just sick enough to be totally confident.
It’s Daniel’s birthday, too. Happy Birthday, D! Create, destroy, enjoy!