So, yeah. It’s happened again. I dropped a crazy-awesome parody of Papa Hemingway’s A Clean Well Lighted Place, followed by a brilliant goddamn lost scene from Gilgamesh. I got your hopes up. I know. You were certain that TDOP was going to be pumping out gems of bathroom-reading brilliance. You checked back regularly (you could have just subscribed, you know, but whatever) only to find disappointment each time. And now this has gone on for, what, two, three months? I apologize. Deeply, unreservedly, from the bottom of my bottle of Maker’s Mark 46. But it really wasn’t my fault. See, it happened sort of like this.
It was a Tuesday night and I was killing a bit of time before the weekly poker tournament at the local card room here in town. It’s in the part of downtown where I don’t expect to get stabbed, but I can’t rule it out either. I was at The Rusty Liver, a bar just two doors down. It’s dark, smells of funk, and when I ask the bartender what he’s got in the way of a nice single-malt, he looks at me like I’ve forgotten my place.
Now, it may sound like I’m being critical, but I assure you that’s not the case. I love The Liv. First of all, they seem to have no idea what other places charge for similar drinks – my dollar goes far. Second, I’m a king here. What I mean is, in some bars I am faced, brutally, with my own deficiencies. I’m the old guy. Or the big guy. The guy wearing “dad shoes.” But here at the Liv, things are different. The place is full of people who look kinda like me, but who’ve broken bad somewhere along the line. They look like me with fewer teeth and a lower regard for basic hygiene. They exude an undignified sense of desperation several degrees worse than my own. Here I’m the one whose shit is together and it’s the only bar in town where I’m the chick magnet, regularly attracting the attention of the local MMILFs, the first M standing for meth, the IL an overstatement – bourbon quantity dependent, of course.
Anyway, the evening in question I was sitting in one of the three or four booths along the back wall. Nursing a bit of bourbon, watching the A’s game on the TV when things took a turn for the interesting. About thirty minutes before the tournament, a woman walked in. She was a rare sight in the Liv, tall and lithe – a swimmer’s body, shown off by the racerback, scoopneck tank-top she wore over what others might call a hippy skirt – but here in Santa Cruz, we just call it a skirt. Now, occasionally I’ve seen attractive young women here, but only if they’re members of a clutch of college kids out for a night on the wild side. I’d never seen anything like this beautiful creature in The Liv on her own. But hey, I’m burying the lead. More remarkable than her appearance was the fact that cradled in her arms, was a chicken. A live, motherfucking chicken. I shit you not.
Now, I’ve seen a lot of shit in my day. I’ve seen a Florida gator jump ten fucking feet out of the water to take down a zip-lining tourist. But I’ve never seen anything like what happened that night. Almost to a one, heads turned to watch her. Then a brief hush, a kind of recognition like the Pope himself had just sauntered in. Mystery woman and her chicken took a seat at the bar. The hush suddenly gave way to shouts the likes of which, at the Liv, are usually reserved for a Buster Posey homerun. Then, like so many penitents desperate for absolution, they lined up to stroke the woman’s chicken.
I watched the strange rite for a while but soon returned to the A’s game. In the top of the fourth, the A’s catcher took foul ball to the junk, crumpling immediately to the ground. They showed ten different replays, four of them slow motion. Then close-ups of his crimson, grimacing face. I didn’t really want to watch, but I couldn’t turn away either. Just when the medical staff started to help him off the field and into the dugout, I heard a voice at my shoulder.
“Don’t you want to touch my chicken?” It was her, holding her chicken like a football, raven hair cascading about her shoulders.
“Like you wouldn’t believe,” I winked. “That’s a mighty fine chicken you got there. What is it? A Rhode Island red?”
She sat down across from me in the booth, loosing the chicken to free-range it on the table, “Well,” she smiled, “Rhode Island reds are usually, you know, red. This one’s white.”
“Yeah, that’s the only breed I know off the top of my head. From The Devil’s Rejects? The movie? Where the guy goes to buy a chicken and the other guy asks if he plans to fuck the chicken . . .” I trailed off, the look on her face reminding me that my cultural references don’t always swim down the mainstream.
“It’s a leghorn,” she said.
“Yeah, but this is a hen. Foghorn was a rooster. But that’s pretty irrelevant here. This isn’t just any leghorn chicken. You should pet her. You’ll see.”
I reached out to stroke the chicken along its flank and gradually started to visualize the poker tournament I was about to play. I saw myself playing with a lazer focus. I was punish fools who raised out of position, but laying down every time I was beat. Every bluff was well timed. Every draw came good. I was sitting at the final table, top three, plenty of chips. It was more than just visualization though. I felt like I was there. I snapped out of the vision, experience, whatever it was, brimming with confidence sure that what I had just seen was about to come true. I looked at my chicken-bearing companion with disbelief, “What the hell was that?”
“She’s a Promise Chicken,” the woman said. “She facilitates your own self-belief. Her name is Elpis. It’s Greek for Hope.”
My experience with Elpis that night didn’t help my poker game though. Mainly because I never played that tournament. One thing lead to another and I wound up going home with chicken-lady – turns out her name was Saffron. Of course it was. And by home, I mean a motel over on Soquel Avenue.
A beam of sunlight broke through the drapes like a protester though a barricade. That’s what woke me up at first. I was in the motel room, but Saffron was gone. Elpis was not. She was roosting on my chest with an envelope in her beak. She poked me in the face with it several times, and pok-pok’d gently until I was fully awake. I took the envelope, which contained a multi-page note. I read:
Dear Whiskey, I want you to know that I didn’t plan this. I mean, finding you at the bar last night – bringing you back here wasn’t a set-up. I’ve needed to go back east for some time now to take care of some personal business, but couldn’t leave until I knew I could count on someone to sit my chicken. Elpis is picky, but she likes you. While you were in the bathroom last night, she told me she’d be okay staying with you. Anyway, I know I should have just asked. You’re a good guy and I’m sure you would have done the right thing, but I couldn’t risk it. I’ve put this trip off too long as it is. I’ll be gone two, three months tops.
I left the van here, the keys are on the dresser. It has everything Elpis needs, food, bedding, all her chicken toys. If you just want to take her home and keep her till I get back I can’t blame you. But Elpis is a Promise Chicken. She really needs to be out doing her thing. It’s why she’s here. In the van there’s a map and an itinerary of all the bars and shelters on our circuit. I have no right to ask, but if you could find in in your obviously good heart, could you take over for me? Could you keep Elpis making her rounds while I’m gone? I think you’ll find it’s very personally rewarding. And besides, if you do, you know the thing I did last night with the candle, the ice cube, and the tongs? I’ll do it again. When I get back. XOXO Saffron
So there you have it. I didn’t just sit that chicken, I spent two months on the Promise Chicken circuit. Man, the people we saw. The stories we heard. It’s just a big ol’ world full of goofy-ass shit out there. Maybe someday I’ll tell you about some of it. In the end, Saffron came back and reunited with Elpis. Now they’re back on the road spreading hope and promise. And me? Well, I’m back trying to write some clever stories for you guys but I’m finding it rather difficult. Every time I sit down to write, all I can think of is that ice cube and those motherfucking tongs.
© 2016 Whiskey Leavins