CHICKEN POO IS NOTHING TO CLUCK ABOUT
A TUCKER'S TAVERN TALE
No one at Tucker’s Tavern knew what Bruce Burton did for a living. There were rumors. He was always well dressed and drove a new convertible or a vintage Harley-Davidson. There were rumors of drugs, witness protection, and undercover narc.
Everything changed the April afternoon he came into my bar during “Happy Hour” with a large chicken under each arm. Not ordinary chickens. Green chickens. I’d never seen a green chicken. And apparently, neither had any of my customers. Heads turned. His chickens clucked.
“Bruce, you can’t bring chickens in here,” I said.
“They’re service chickens,” Bruce smiled.
“Don’t care. You have to leave them outside.”
“Rescue chickens. Had a hard life. They’ll get run over outside.” He turned to my patrons. Lifted one of the chickens high in the air. “Who wants to see this beautiful bird become road kill?”
There was a chorus of, “NO’S.”
“Besides there’s a vicious dog tied to a tree near your front door.”
“That’s my Chihuahua,” Madeline our local tattoo artist offered. “He’s a scaredy cat. Dog. Those birds would kick his ass.”
“Aw, Tuck, let the birds stay,” someone cried.
“Yeah, they’re kind of cluck, cluck, cute,” Bald Lewis offered.
“If the birds stay can I bring in Poncho Villa?” Madeline asked.
Inside for two minutes and Bruce was giving me the bird. Two birds. The crowd had turned against me. Well most of the crowd. Bald Lewis, better known as ‘Dewar’s and Water’ to the bar crew shouted out, “Course if you fatten that one up,” ‘Dewar’s and Water’ pointed to the bird under Bruce’s left armpit, “I’ll toss it on the Bar B Q.”
Madeline and Sylvia known as ‘Tanqueray with One Olive,’ gave Bald a whack on each shoulder.
From the corner of the bar, “Do they have names?” Asked Pauline Clucas a CPA for the Internal Revenue Service.
“Of course,” Bruce pointed to the green chicken on his left. “This one’s Stir Fry. And this one I call I-22. Or Item 22 on the menu. Or Chicken Foo Yung.” Bruce laughed and placed Stir Fry and I-22 on the floor and looked at me “Tuck, can I get a pint?”
“Don’t put them—“
The chickens raced off. Wings flapped. The crowd cheered.
“I’ll bet $5 on Stir Fry,” Dewar’s and Water shouted.
“What’s the bet?” Asked the I.R.S. rep.
“First chicken to go under the pool table and back.”
“Done. I’ve got I-22.”
“Five on the green one” said ‘Bud and a Shot of Jack back.’
“They’re both green, you horse’s ass,” said his wife.
The chickens separated: I-22 toward the piano; Stir Fry toward the fireplace.
The crowd took sides - “Go, Stir Fry”
“We’re for you-I-22.”
“Stir Fry, Stir Fry, you’re our guy. You’re our guy.” Dewar’s and Water led the cheer.
“They’re hens not roosters,” Bruce exclaimed. “She’s — not he’s.”
"I don’t think they're gender-conscious,” I said to no one listening.
“I-22, we love you. Yes, we do. We love you,” Madeline and Sylvia chorused In pretty good harmony.
Stir Fry did a zig towards the ladies' room, did a smart about- face, zagged past the jukebox, ducked under the pool table, and disappeared.
I-22 left the piano, hopped on the stage, darted between the monitors and two fender amp's, crossed the dance floor, gave a mighty leap, a few feeble wing flaps and made it to the top of the pool table where she scattered the balls, looked back to the bar, squatted and shat.
At first the crowd cheered. Then arguing ensued —under the pool table vs on top of the pool table.
“The bet was under the pool table and back.” Dewar’s and Water said.
“You have to admit going over the pool table” Sylvia dunked the olive into her Tanqueray, “ is a more difficult task than going under it.”
“That wasn’t the bet.”
I pulled Bruce aside. “Get your chickens out of here and get something to clean your chicken’s droppings off the felt on my pool table.”
“Will do, will do,” Bruce promised. “But give us a break, Tuck. How about a pint? Catching chickens is quite a task.”
And it was. It took four of us ten minutes. Pauline had a large shopping bag. She coaxed Stir Fry in with a hand full of pretzels bits. I-22 hopped right in after her. Pauline pulled the draw- string closed. Two little hen heads periscoped out of the bag with a chorus of clucks.
“Where did you get your chickens?” I asked, handing Bruce a pint of I.P.A. local brew.
Bruce gave a furtive look left and right, “Just between us—“
I held up my hand, “You’re not going to say ‘us chickens’ are you?”
“Nope. I was stopping with us.” Again Bruce looked left and right. “I smuggled them
in from Majorca.”
Just like a well-rehearsed drum roll Stir Fry and I-22 chorused in with a series of well
‘Smuggled,’ I thought. That answered one of the mysteries about Bruce Burton. He was a smuggler. Not drugs or guns. He was a chicken smuggler. A green chicken smuggler. Who would have thought there was an under-ground market for green chickens?
“It’s a small island off of the coast—“
“Bruce, I know what Majorca is and where it is. But why chickens? Green chickens?”
Bruce took a big gulp of beer. “They kinda took to me. I was staying on a farm in the mountains near Manacor. They we’re being abused. Fattened up for eating. These are rare birds. How often do you see green chickens?”
“So you just packed them up and smuggled that back here?” I asked.
“To America. To a better life. And they knew it, Tuck. They knew it. Didn’t cluck once going through customs. Not once.”
Just then my bar door flew open. A couple walked in gawking. “THIS THE PLACE WITH
THE GREEN CHICKENS?”
Fairfax is a small town. Word travels fast.
Pauline pointed to the two heads peeking out of her shopping bag. “They’re in there.”
“Can’t tell if they’re green from the heads,” the man said.
“Show the folks,” Dewars and Water said.
Pauline eased the draw-string. Stir Fry and I-22 bobbed up and down.
“They’re our bar’s mascots” added Tanqueray with One Olive.
"They’re really green,” said the woman.
Bruce pulled me behind the piano. “I have an idea. We could make a lot of —-Tuck, do you want to increase your patronage?’
And that’s how the Friday night CHICKEN SHIT contest at Tucker’s Tavern began.
The next afternoon, an hour before “Happy Hour,” Bruce sauntered through the front door—but instead of chickens — he carried two large, laminated pieces of drawing paper glued to a piece of cardboard. The top of one was titled STIR FRY. The other read I-22 and had a little menu motif behind it. Both boards had large 10 x10 grids drawn on them. The numbers ‘1’ through ‘10’ above each square along the top and bottom. And the letters ‘A’ through ‘J’ next to each square along the sides. Similar to any Super Bowl or World Series pool.
Heads turned. “Where are your chickens?” Bud and a Shot-of Jack-Back asked.
“I brought them a snack.” Madeline held out a lunch back-size bag of Kaytee Wild Bird Seed.
Bruce ignored the question and the offering. “Friday night there is going to be a contest. An event.
I have two Chicken Pool boards. One dollar a square. Two hundred dollars first prize winner takes all,” Bruce explained before I said a word. “Ladies and gentlemen pick your bird.”
I’ll take three squares,” said Dewars and Water from his bar stool.
“Here’s four dollars. I’ll take the corners,” added Bud and a Shot-of Jack-Back.
By the end of ‘Happy Hour,’ twenty-six squares had been purchased on both boards. I’m not superstitious but divide twenty-six in half and you have thirteen. Two twenty-six’s in half equals four thirteens. I should have heeded the omen. But interest was high. Before Friday night’s event both ‘Chicken Pool’ cards were sold out. With more than a few folks hedging their bets by betting on both birds.
Friday morning Bruce took over my dance floor. With masking tape, he created a grid of f10x10 100 one inch squares. He numbered the squares along the top and bottom ‘1’ through ‘10’ and lettered ‘A’ through ‘J’ along the sides— an exact replica of the ‘Chicken Pool’ cards.
By 7:00 p.m. there was a big crowd and growing by the minute. Bruce looked at his watch, cupped his hands, and shouted, “Ladies and Gentleman,” like an experienced circus barker. A hush settled over the Tavern. “One hour till tonight’s competition.”
A stout man in a Giant’s baseball cap approached with a ten-dollar bill in his fist. “Like to put a fiver on each bird,” he grunted.
“We’re sold out,” Bruce shrugged apologetically.
“Get out of here! Drove twenty-five miles for nothing.” Giants cap growled.
Bruce, looked at me. “Maybe next. . .week?”
Now I shrugged. Giants cap huffed and shouldered his way to the bar.
At 8:00 sharp, Bruce again cupped his hands. “Ladies and gentlemen five minutes to. . . ”The Great American Poop Off.”
Bar stools were abandoned. Everyone headed for the converted dance floor. Bruce stepped over a two-foot fence into what was now the ‘Chicken Coliseum.’ And with a flair for the dramatic, “Before I bring tonight’s contestants into the arena let me explain the rules.”
A gentle murmur of protest waved through the crowd.
“Okay, okay, let’s forget the rules.”
Everyone cheered. ‘Green chicken smuggler or not, Bruce could find a home in politics,’ I thought. ‘The man could sway a crowd.’
“Tonight’s contestants will be Stir Fry and I-22.”
“l-22?” A woman asked. “Is this about robots? I didn’t come for Star Wars.”
“I-22. Item 22 on the menu, Lady.” Bruce scowled. The woman shrunk back into the crowd.
“Both birds…” Bruce swept his arm around the one hundred square enclosure, “will enter the arena at the same time. WHERE and WHEN … one bird decides to deposit its morning meal of grubs, poppyseeds, and mealworms will be declared the $200.00 dollar winner.”
Bruce looked at the crowd, “while I go to collect the contestants you may want to refresh your beverages.” Bruce nudged me as he went out the back door. “How’d you like the advertisement?” He winked.
Bruce returned in a Batman cape and a green chicken under each arm. Pauline followed carrying a tape recorder playing the Theme from the Rocky movies.
Gingerly, Bruce placed I-22 into the arena. She was dressed for the event. Wearing a small strand of pearls around her neck and a faux diamond ring strapped to the middle talon of her left leg. Not to be outdone Stir Fry entered the ‘Chicken Coliseum’ wearing blue and green sequined garters around each drumstick leg and a necklace of fake emeralds draped across her chest complimenting her green feathers.
The crowd cheered. I couldn’t help joining them.
Bruce produced a hotel paging bell from his pocket. “When the bell rings, the game begins,”
The crowd cheered. The bell ‘Pinged.’ Stir Fry clucked and scampered to the middle of the arena as far from the crowd as she could get. I-22 followed suit. They stood tail feathers to tail feathers, like a stand-off in a Quentin Tarantino movie. There wasn’t a cluck.
“Stand back,” Bruce shouted. “Your scaring the contestants.” No one moved.
Bud and a Shot of Jack Back moved around the perimeter of the arena wheedling a rolled- up section of the San Francisco Chronicle’s sports section. “Back. Stand back. I’ve got the corners.”
Swinging the tape recorder like a steeple bell, Pauline attacked from the other direction. She turned up the volume of the ‘Rocky’ theme and shouted. “Back, back, back! Give the chickens room to move. Some of us have squares on the sides. Give them room.”
By general consensus, and a bit of intimidation a two-foot path cleared around the arena.
Both birds started to explore their new environs. Bruce began a commentary. “And they’re off! I-22 heads down the five column and takes an abrupt right on an E square.
“Stir Fry is poised over eight B. Will she—? Will she?”
“That’s our square” a man I’d never seen before cried.” Stir Fry stood still. “You can do it. Yes, bird you can—‘
“Over here Stir Fry. Got some corn kernels for you,” Bald Lewis cajoled.
“You can’t bribe the birds.” The man protested. “It’s against the rules.”
“There are no rules,” Bald Lewis sneered.
“THERE ARE NOW!” Bruce admonished. "Do not taunt, tease or feed the birds. Let them go about their business until they do their business.”
And then things got crazy.
Fairfax is a small town. Word gets around. On Fridays, word moves faster. Folks came in through the front and back doors. Bruce didn’t miss a beat or in this case a cluck.
“I-22 is moving to the side.”
“What side?” someone in the rear yelled.
“The A 10 side,” Bruce answered.
“To hell with I-22. Where’s my girl Stir Fry?” Came from the piano area.
“Stir Fry is bobbing and weaving between E and F on the 5 and six squares—-Wait a minute.
Wait a minute. This could—this could— and so early in the contest. . .No, Stir Fry’s has flapped over G and H is tightrope walking the J file. Seven, eight, nine. . .I-22 is chasing Stir Fry. Whoa, did you see hat?—“
“Can see a damn thing from back here,” a woman cried.
“Stir Fry’s having none of it. the birds are face to…well beak to beak. I-22 is pawing her talon into the H 7 square”
“Turn around.” someone yelled. “You're facing the wrong—“
And then it happened. At exactly seven minutes and twenty-two seconds into the event, both chickens deposited their morning meal. And at exactly seven minutes and twenty-three seconds into the event all hell broke loose. Crowd frenzy: would be a good term.
First question was which chicken ‘scored’ first?
This question was settled by a panel of five very partial judges who’d taken cell phone videos of the entire contest from various angles. They huddled over the piano exchanging cell phones. They pointed. Nudged. Nodded. Conversed quietly.
The fans were anxious. “What the hell is taking so long?”
“This isn’t the damn Super Bowl.”
Sylvia or Tanqueray and Olive looked up from the piano. “After a concerted video review of the. . . of the. . . action, we Judges have reached a decision.” Sylvia handed Bruce a folded piece of paper. He opened it slowly. Read the comments silently and like some judge in a murder trial looked at Sylvia, “and this decision is unanimous?”
“It is,” Sylvia replied.
Bruce stepped into the arena. “It has been decided by unanimous decision, after review of slow-motion cell phone footage from five separate—“
“Bruce, will you get on with it.”
Bruce glared but got on with it. “Tonight’s winning chicken. Tonight’s winning chicken is…Stir Fry.”
A quick cheer went up. Followed by a quicker hush.
“For God's sake, what square?”
“What square?” The Stir Fry stakeholders started to shout.
I looked down at the 10 x10 grid. I thought the square question had already been answered. Error. It had not. It seems that chickens, birds in general do not deposit waste in neat little pellets like deer or bunnies. Think of your windshield after you’ve spent a day at the beach and your car has been visited by a flock of seagulls.
The answer was not one square. Bruce impaneled a second group of judges to decide how to divide $200 dollars among several square holders. Stir Fry’s winning act had landed on the juncture of E and F and seven and eight. With F eight the majority square.
None of the ‘winners’ were happy with the decision of the judges. One hundred dollars went to the owner of the F 8 square who happened to be Pauline. Who happened to work for the I.R.S. And I was sure would report her new income. Even Pauline wasn’t happy. She felt she deserved the whole prize.
The major argument was over one dollar. The second hundred was divided evenly. Well as evenly as you can divide one hundred dollars. Bruce dolled out thirty-three dollars to the owners of E 7 and E 8. The owner of F 7 received thirty-FOUR dollars on a technicality the second panel of judges called a ‘viscus smeary.’
“I’M NEVER COMING IN HERE AGAIN,” E 7 said.
“Thing was a rip-off,” added E 8.
I turned up the jukebox and talked Bruce into cleaning up the dance floor for free beers.
For the most part, I get along with the Fairfax police. I’d just unlocked the Tavern Saturday morning when Lt. Judge followed me in. Lt. Judge was followed by a very skinny giant.
“Tuck, cock fights are illegal.” Lt. Judge handed me a flyer.
There was a picture of Stir Fry and I-22. Their wings were held out in front of them. On the ends of their wings were cropped over-sized boxing gloves. Above the birds in a size thirty-five font read, “Stir Fry and I-22 ROUND One - FRIDAY NIGHT TUCKER’S TAVERN.” I had no idea Bruce was passing out and nailing up fliers.
“Cock fights are illegal,” Lt Judge repeated.
“They’re not cocks,” I said. “They’re hens. And they weren’t fighting they were—“ I didn’t get to finish. The skinny giant stepped between Lt. Judge and me.
He pointed to the photos of Stir Fry and I-22. "Do you know what kind of birds these are?”
“Chickens,” I said.
"Green chickens,” he said with fervor.
“How do you know?” Now, I pointed to the flier. “That’s a black and white photo.”
"How did you?” The giant pointed his finger at me, “come into the possession of GREEN chickens?”
“I don’t possess them.” I pushed his finger away. I wasn’t about to rat out Bruce. I looked to Lt. Judge for help. He walked me toward the pool table.
“Tuck, this chicken shit thing has everyone in an uproar. Your competition tells me if you can do it so can they. Fairfax isn’t ready for mud-wrestling alligators.”
“Who said they were going to—?“
“Tuck, I’m just talking here. Last night you were the most popular business in town. Your competition doesn’t like it. You’ve been reported to the Board of Health.”
“The Board of Health?”
"You can’t have live chickens running around when you serve hot dogs and pretzels.”
“And. . .peaking of chickens a couple of your disgruntled customers have complained to the authorities and you might be getting a visit from the S.P.C.A.”
“S.P.C.A.?” I was still musing about the pretzels.
“Good thing you weren’t taking bets.”
I cloaked a cough.
Lt. Judge gave me a conspiratorial wink. “Have to let that one slide on that. . .Half of my graveyard shift had bets on I-22. Said they got a tip from the guy passing out the fliers”
I stifled a cough.
“That’s a bad cough. Should I be wearing a mask?”
I shook my head. “No, I’m fine. This is a lot to digest.”
“The fellow I came in with, he—“
“The tall guy?”
Lt. Judge gave me perplexed look. “The only guy I came in with. The only guy in the place. The guy by the door.”
“He’s looking for the person who smuggled chickens, green chickens, across international borders. It’s an apparent violation of an old treaty between the USA and Spain. Have you heard of Majorca?”
That was the first and last Chicken Shit Contest that I know of in Fairfax. I only saw Bruce Bauer one more time when I visited him at Marin General Hospital after a parachuting accident. Bruce told me he jumped for the thrill of it to celebrate his fifty-second birthday. I think he has smuggling in mind.
Stir Fry and I-22 live close by on a friend’s farm where they are the proud mothers of many multi-colored chicks and toms. None green—so far.
And I highly recommend the Eggs-Benedict at the Two Bird cafe if you are ever out this way.