[lit-ideas] Sunday Something

  • From: David Ritchie <profdritchie@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Sun, 28 Sep 2014 12:41:37 -0700

I'm on record as having acknowledged that America is, and American commercial 
establishments are, banter-free zones, so I should have known better, but when 
the guy in front of me in Safeway, paying for his twenty bottles of sugar-free 
tonic water (and nothing else) was subjected to a checkout cashier's review of 
PBS's "The Roosevelts," I thought I might have blundered into an exceptional 
circumstance.  The customer remarked that it was unfortunate Safeway Club Card 
had brought him no discount.  I leaned in, "Maybe if you'd bought club soda?"  
The PBS-reviewing clerk laughed.  The customer looked baffled, furious even.  
He drank sugar-free tonic water and who was I to tell him otherwise?  

Two scenes of eating this week.  First I put out a half-finished container of 
vanilla ice cream.  Something had spilled in the freezer and so the ice cream 
was going to have to go.  In ones and twos the chickens came up and took turns 
dipping their beaks in.  Cheddar  walked round the perimeter of the crowd, 
knowing it wasn't safe to move to the center until the powers-that-be had eaten 
a sufficiency.  She sang to the tune of "Tipperary" while she waited, "It's a 
long wait to get at ice cream but that's only nay-chah, you know..."  It's 
quite difficult to look dignified with white ice cream covering your beak, but 
that didn't prevent the leadership from trying.  As I watched it occurred to me 
I might start an egg-flavoring project...maybe offering them Marmite, mint or 
even chocolate next.  I'd better look up first whether any of those is liable 
to kill a chicken.  The chickens' pleasure with the ice cream was as naught 
compared to what they reaped from the next day's offering--some quinoa and 
other grains E. had prepared for a lunchtime salad before she left for Europe.  
Everyone crowded this container; no taking turns in this instance.  They sang 
in unison the song they reserve for ecstatic experiences.  It's a difficult 
tune, ululating, irregular, something you might hear way out in the desert, 
where sand dunes sing.
"From Peru, this grain, you know?"
"Wonderful South America."
"Where Wensleydale was from."
"Was not."
"Was too!"
"I thought she said she was from Chile."
"Could have just been cold.  What a winter."
"Polynesian.  That's what made her eggs blue."
"What eggs?"
"Good point."

The cat Jeeves had finished his morning patrol and was lying on top of the 
jacuzzi.  "Watch," he suggested.  Rocky was emerging from Fort Squawk.  She ran 
across to the bench, jumped up and began to call to the others, "I laid an 
egg."  Down below in the woods came an answering, "Well done."  Somewhat 
lacking in enthusiasm.
"I said, 'I laid an egg!'"
"Yes, yes...  We heard you."
"An egg!"
"We're busy scratching."
"It was very big."
"Right ho."
"I said, 'I laid an egg!"
Jeeves was as near to rolling his eyes as a cat can come.  "Every day they 
shout like that.  Why not just paint a target on your forehead and have done 
with it?"
Whenever Jeeves leaves the house he chooses his moment carefully, looks right, 
looks left, crouches, scans, gives a little wag of his stiff tail as if to say, 
 "Watch out, predators, I know what's what."
I said, "They're not solitary hunters like you.  They rely on flocking."
"And making ridiculous amounts of noise."
"Sonsie does too.  And he's a cat."
"Well," Jeeves murmured, "quite."
At the end of the day the chickens now cluster outside the kitchen door.  This 
is partly simple begging; they want chips or dog food or quinoa to fall like 
manna from my hand.  But it's also about the crow who often spends a noisy half 
hour in one of our trees before flying off to his chums at the roost-n-tavern.  
He's a very boastful crow.  The chickens seem quite afraid of him.  Their 
defense is a kind of collective hum, also the huddling.
"Altogether now girls, as Wensleydale taught..."
"Is it working?"
"I'm afraid I'm falling short.  I'm unlikely to be able to become one with the 
universe when you're standing on my foot."
"Mind the pooh."
"It's still there, you know.  Crowing like it owns the place."
"So full of himself."
"You think he ever lays an egg?  Does he heck!"
"We might need a little help here.  In a moment."
"The gods will come if there's a problem."
"Then he'll learn what's what."
"What's what?"
"It's a turn of phrase.  It means that we'll see what's to be done."
"How can 'what's to be done' also be 'what'?  That's illogical that is."
"Cheddar sometimes you're the limit."
"I am never.  I'm always me."
Jeeves wondered up to where I was lurking and listening.  "May I please go out 
"Certainly," I said.
"Not by *that* door."
"Not scared of a few chickens are we?"

It turns out that one of the things Keats may have been on about with his, 
"Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness," was chickens' reaction to the 
equinox.  Chucking eggs out, they are.  Full throttle.  Or, theory number two, 
they could be regarding Wensleydale's absence as a sign that the gods do awful 
things to those who do not produce.  Unlikely.  There's no outward sign of fear 
of anything but crows and hawks and so on; to me they are as chatty and 
friendly as ever.  The chickens, the dog, one cat, no crow and I spent a very 
pleasant half hour or so watching the light on the trees, the other evening, 
enjoying a beer and some scratching.  Also retrieving the Ball.  On a whim, 
Cheddar decided to dig to Australia and very got a good start with the project. 
 The other four birds wandered around testing this and that, avoiding the dog.  
Peccorino wondered if gods have feet of clay and if so whether there was 
anything edible within my sole.  Since the foot was at the time hors de flip 
flop, the behavior was immediately discouraged.  Otherwise, though, there was a 
general air of contentment.  Jeeves made no noise, the dog eventually stopped 
to pant, the girls made interrogatory noises.  I read the New York Times and 
applauded Mr. Keats.

David Ritchie,
Portland, Oregon  

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