I never really considered that I’d have enough comedic material with which to discuss both metal chickens and the free-range Key West roosters with any sort of expertise, let alone at the same time. It’s not an area of interest or study, academically or personally. Not really my thing. Kate Spade v. Tory Burch? I’ve gotcha. But I’ve had a thing for metal chickens since Jenny Lawson over at The Bloggess wrote her hilarious tale of Beyonce at the discount store. I have a small one, Blue Ivy, on my desk at home, a giant one, Jay Z, on my porch, and my own Beyonce is up a little further north entertaining Gwynne until she gets down here to visit.
In the meantime, Gwynne and Jonathan are having a good time with Beyonce, whom I believe has become a hostage for some sort of homeopathic oil and muffins. Not sure. But she’s a vicious, killer of a chicken who’s already tried to murder Murph twice, so I’m not really worried. They’re messing with her at their own peril.
And I like roosters. I have a Williams-Sonoma rooster tablecloth and serving dish, fabulous rooster placemats, and Pier One rooster napkin rings with sparkly tails. They’re lovely in the Fall. Oh, and I brought them with us since I am so good at the not packing. And though we aren’t ever going to have Fall again, we do have roosters, and not just any roosters, we have live, free-range roosters. Independent roosters. Citizen roosters. Since they have civil rights and protections. And some rooster gangs, which I won’t talk about here but will try to record for your viewing pleasure.
I had a little bit of recall about the wild Key West roosters here from past visits. Not a lot, but enough that I remembered and looked it up before we moved. I searched through blogs and found Island Jay, who has great t-shirts and drink recipes, and The Citizen, the local newspaper, and Henry Fuller, who is a wealth of great information and photos. But not much about roosterism. My current landlord told me they were mostly chased from the golf club and really weren’t much of a bother unless you went downtown. And he’s right in the sense that we are not awakened at the break of dawn by crowing and we hardly hear a peep much less a crow from them. But he lied. He totally lied. Those roosters are everygoddamnedwhere.
They’re feral, utterly wild and completely unafraid of humans and other animals and Navy fighter planes. They are certain of their position at the top of the ladder of breathing beings. Noisy, colorful, brash, comical, clever, charming, accepting of everyone, equally randomly disdainful of others without any discrimination at all and sometimes truly, intentionally, annoying, they are true representatives of this tiny island republic and all for which it stands. But notwithstanding their representative nature of the place, they are food items run amok.
We’ve been here just about what? Two weeks now? It will be two weeks on Wednesday because that will also be three weeks since we began the hellish journey that left our former life behind. So yes, we’re at Day 13. Jimmy Buffett sang about Cheeseburgers in Paradise, right? Heaven on earth with an onion slice? Yeah, right Jimmy.
It should have been Roosters in Paradise.
Deep fried in lard with a beer would be nice.
Breaded or roasted or shredded with rice.
Let’s eat those roosters in paradise.
They are fowl tyrants. They are everywhere. And OMG, the attitudes on these birds that belong in a bag at a drive-through window. It’s like they know they’re untouchable so they just wait around to annoy people. Feathered teenagers. I cannot believe some golfer, 15 over par on a day with a heat index of 115 hasn’t bludgeoned one to death with a 9-iron as it stood standing on the green, preening, perhaps napping, making everyone wait until it feels like moving, backing up golf groups for a half mile while the waiting golfers clapped quietly and spoke in whispered approval.
I swear that they wait for people to get home from work (yes, people do work here, and I’m one of them). Then they stand in front of your car and stare at you with their beady chicken eyes until they feel like moving. Just standing there and staring. Try to go around him? He’ll move so you can’t. It’s a new version of the ever-popular wedding spectacle The Chicken Dance. Like you have not been working all day and just want to go home and get changed and have a drink or eat dinner or whatever. They just stand and wait. And you can’t run them over. Oh, no. That’s like a “go to jail” offense here. Do NOT mess with the roosters.
Downtown, the tourists think they are sooo cute and quaint. Until they figure out that they’re lazy, sun-stricken, dumb island roosters who may crow at dawn, and do, but they also crow all damned day and night at the top of their chicken lungs. “Cock-a-doodle-FUCK-you!” they yell, all day long, every day. They never stop. Even if you throw money at them. Or food. They’re not even begging. Because people would give them money to shut up and stop chasing them. They are simply squawking to hear themselves squawk.
The wildlife center on the island has a Community Trapping Program for really annoying roosters. The call it a “human chicken conflict resolution program.” NO. I am not making any of this well-researched bit of local color up. And I don’t know what separates a “really annoying rooster” from a regular rooster, except maybe the “really annoying roosters” bite human babies or trip elderly people crossing streets or perform other asshole chicken moves like biting the straps off your flip flops. Anyway, to get rid of “nuisance” chickens (because loose roosters running amok on the streets and beaches are apparently not all nuisances), you can go borrow a trap from the center to capture the fowl beast (yourself somehow) and then transport it (Uber may give discounts on chicken runs, you never know unless you ask), in the borrowed cage, back to them. Or they’ll (hand to GOD) send a rooster trapper out to your home to trap your nuisance rooster. Then they ship it to Perdue or Tyson to become a breaded toddler favorite food. No, that’s not true.
That’s what they’d do anywhere else. Here, they feed them and play with them and get them vet-checked, and then send them to some organic farm, probably on a private plane, where they lay eggs that cost $8.99/dozen because they are special. They ship 1500-2000 freaking chickens off the island every year, and they are still everywhere! Stop. This is not fiction. Use the Google. Fact check me.
We met the guy who has taken care of them of for the past 24 years. I thought he was homeless at first because he didn’t have many teeth and looked a little wind-battered and unbathed and generally unkempt, but no, he’s just the chicken keeper near the dock. He has 64 of them that he watches over, and he solicits donations for their care from tourists. He says they like fresh coconut and chicken feed, but their favorite food is Ramen Noodles. On second thought, maybe he is just a homeless guy with a halfway decent story. It’s hard to tell down here, and I’m still new. Homeless? Employed? Billionaire? Everyone looks the same. But if you want to contribute to the Rooster/Chicken Care you can send these:
They (the roosters, not the homeless dudes) (well, maybe some of them, too, it is hard to tell) also hang out in grocery store parking lots, and if you buy something they want, or you know, they just feel like it, they’ll chase you to your car. The roosters, I mean. It’s fun, for them at least, I guess. Screeching and running after some poor shopper who’s throwing fruit, cans of soup and boxes of macaroni and cheese at them to try to get them to stop charging while they run towards their cars with their baskets clattering and knocking over scooters. Honestly, it’s pretty good shakedown technique. Props to the roosters. Also, make a note that you may want to keep some ramen noodles in your bag, just in you need to evade and escape one hell-bent on your groceries.
On Thursday, I talked to Sam, the guy who had my job before I took my job, and among all things professional with which he helped, he also told me where to go for a variety of things (like go to Duetto for real pizza) and some cool “insider” island stuff I’ll write about if I can find. He was the one who told me to go over to the sheriff’s office late in the afternoon to see the ducks, geese, roosters, snakes, iguanas, turtles and other wildlife congregate.
So on Friday, after the fateful visit to the SPCA about which I will write later because I still have no words for what happened (all adoptions were free, and no, I do not want to discuss this), we drove past the Sheriff’s Office on the way home.
And that’s when it occurred to me that the feral, fearsome roosters are probably raping the ducks. Murph wonders, too. We sat and watched them while a sheriff in a big SUV watched all the people watching the wildlife, and I realized that those are not normal ducks. They have rooster crests. They don’t quack like ducks. They sort of crow. And they’re all the wrong colors. Ducksters? Douchesters (guess who came up with that one). Rucks? Rucksters? Some hybrid genetic mutation of duck and rooster is happening here. And I think the sheriffs and the SPCA and maybe some biologists know about it.
At any rate, my boss just told me that the 6.5 foot crocodile that’s hanging out on the golf course (golf is like an extreme sport here, yo, with the wildlife running interference and creating hazards) was heading that way at about that time, so chances are good he knew about Wildlife Happy Hour at the Sheriff’s Office and was just going for a drink and a snack. Because why else would a 6.5 foot crocodile be walking up the road on a rainy Friday afternoon? Also, it may have been why the sheriff was sitting in the SUV just watching. Croc watch may be a thing here. They won’t remove them, and they won’t bother them because relocating them is so stressful they sometimes die, but I think they might like to know where they are.
Last night, Murph and his new friend Shane, went out to hunt for coconuts. Yep, that’s a thing here, too. Guavas, mangos, melons…they hunt it all. Or get hit on the head with them when they fall from trees. Something like that. Whatever.
Because FML, if I’m going shake things up in our lives, I’m going to shake things up the way the bartenders do on Duval Street. He called about ten minutes later. The conversation went something like this:
Murph: “I don’t know what to do. (interference, static, inhuman screeching) are following us and we’re scared they’re (more interference).”
Me (0 to utter panic in 2.1 seconds): “WHAT? WHO is following you? Hang up and call 911 right now so the sheriffs can track your phone and call me right back.”
Murph (baffled): “I don’t think the sheriffs will help us. Can we just throw our coconuts at them? And Shane found some guavas.”
Me (incredulous that I have raised a dolt who wants to throw fruit at child predators): “Hang up and call 911. You are about to be kidnapped and they need to know where to look for you.”
Murph (confused and concerned): “Did you put tequila in your watermelon smoothie? Where do you think the roosters are going to take us?”
Me (lost): “What roosters? Get away from there. No one needs help finding their roosters. Or puppies. Or kittens. Do not get in a car with anyone. Call 911 or you know what? Just come home. Right now.”
Murph (like I’ve lost my mind): “You want me to lead the roosters back to our house?”
Me (calming the mom reaction): “What exactly is going on?”
Murph: “We went out to look for guavas and mangos and coconuts and some roosters started following us but then their friends showed up now there’s like 10 of them chasing us and screeching, and we don’t know what to do.”
Me: “Jesus Christ on a Vespa at the Vatican. Don’t you have your bikes? Just ride away.”
Murph: “Mom! They’re fast, they’re chasing our bikes. Shane’s rolling guavas at them like they’re bowling balls to try to slow them down while we ride, but the chickens are just jumping over them and getting madder.”
Me: “Well, don’t lead them back here. Lead them to the guardhouse. Security knows what to do.”
Murph: “Now I’m the pied piper of crazy roosters? I don’t even know how to get there! Shane! Watch! On your left! Dude! No!”
Me (end of my rope, googling rooster repellant): “I’m sorry I ruined your life. I didn’t realize. I thought I was making it better…”
Murph: “RUINED it? This is awesome!!!!! My friends at home never get chased by chickens. This is better than when the fox got stuck in my bedroom.”
I forgot to mention that if one of the roosters was Louis, who was born not just in Key West but on the golf course, there’s a $100 bounty on his head. Apparently, his crowing in another part of the development here, has driven a resident to such complete madness that he was caught shooting a pellet rifle at Louis from the upstairs balcony off of his bedroom one morning. In trouble with security, he reluctantly agreed to stop shooting at the annoying bird but placed a bounty on his crest for anyone who could trap, remove or other end Louis’ reign of terror. I get it. It’s hot. There is only so much of that crowing you cant take. I can see how shooting the damned feathered menace would seem like a perfectly reasonable option at 5:30AM. But I didn’t want Murph messing with Louis.
I’m getting used to the roosters, though, child predator tendencies aside. I no longer look at all of them as potential parmigiana or barbecue. They’re really beautiful birds here. Colorful. Healthy. Someone (okay, Murphy, after he took a trolley tour of the island) told me that they are not indigenous but were brought over from Cuba by immigrants (no, they were not a hilarious prank gift from Fidel Castro, though that would have really been a subtle and subversive act of war totally worthy of the man), and then in the Great Rooster Uprising of 1921, they escaped their hungry captors and declared themselves Supreme Rulers of the Island and began reproducing everywhere. This uprising is not to be mistaken for the uprising in 1982 which led to the founding of the micronation known as the Conch Republic.
“As part of the protest, Mayor Wardlow was proclaimed Prime Minister of the Republic, which immediately declared war against the U.S. (symbolically breaking a loaf of stale Cuban bread over the head of a man dressed in a naval uniform), quickly surrendered after one minute (to the man in the uniform), and applied for one billion dollars in foreign aid.” — Wikipedia
I also hear they tried to rejoin the United Kingdom but Queen Elizabeth said she already had enough drunken potheads to deal with in the rest of the Caribbean and to make peace with their own damned government. Probably, the roosters played a part in her decision, but she had too much class to mention them.
These are things we’re wishing for (send me a note if you want to send us one and we’ll post a special thank you with photos)…what’s on your wish list?
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