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Al Martinez

'What can you learn from a chicken? They're the dumbest creatures alive outside a turkey.' : One Lays Eggs, One Doesn't

November 13, 1986|Al Martinez

Every once in awhile, for reasons I can never later recall, I begin to perceive myself as a Big Butter and Egg Man.

It is a phrase borrowed from my mother's colorful lexicon of descriptions that were intended to make me conscious of a momentary lapse into pomposity.

She used to point her finger at me when I mouthed off in a know-it-all fashion and say, "So who's the Big Butter and Egg Man!"

I never knew precisely what she meant, since butter and egg men were never an important part of my life, but I sensed she felt that my ego was outrunning reality.

Her desired effect was to make me aware of my own wretched standing.

Later, a Marine Corps drill instructor further restructured my posture of self-importance when he informed an entire bald-headed boot camp platoon of us that we were lower than a cricket's derriere.

It lacked my mother's more refined observation, but at least there was no confusion about what the man intended to convey.

I mention this as a prelude to today's effort because lately I have been swaggering around with my thumbs hooked under my suspenders feeling superior.

Part of it, I think, is that by saving assiduously, I managed to spend last week in Paris, while you were still hacking away in your wretched workaday world somewhere between El Segundo and Lawndale.

Perhaps, I said to myself while dining on poitrine de veau on the Left Bank of the Seine, I was a Big Butter and Egg Man and was not, as the D.I. had speculated aloud, lower than a cricket's caboose.

But now I am home again and, since the cost of time off is always a frantic search for column material, I am reduced to composing essays about Culver City chickens.

It is a sobering moment indeed to return from France and realize I have nothing to write about but a dispute over chickens in a town that is about as far from Paris as Nancy Reagan is from Madonna.

Self-confidence flies out the window when a Culver City chicken struts in the door.

Notice I did not define the sex of the fowl, because the essence of the dispute, and hence today's column, is whether or not the aforementioned creatures were hens or roosters.

One neighbor claims they crowed, another that they clucked. God help me if I ever find myself really beginning to care.

To prove my unconcern, this is a column researched weeks ago which I had hoped never to use. Desperation often shapes the thrust of American journalism.

The chickens in question were owned by Rose-Marie Gamboa. She bought four of them as pets for her children.

However, neighbor Karen Avines complained that the chickens were not only causing rats but that two of them were roosters and, by crowing at dawn, were keeping her awake.

So.

I spoke first to Rose-Marie who said the rats were attracted by avocado trees, not chickens.

When I pointed out that Karen's real complaint was that while the avocado trees remained silent, two of the chickens were cock-a-doodle-dooing each morning, Rose-Marie bristled.

"Twice I have had animal regulation people out here," she said. "Both times they verified that all my chickens were laying eggs.

"The only way I can tell the difference between chickens is that one lays eggs and one doesn't. Roosters don't."

I tried to reach Karen Avines but could not, instead discussing the Chicken War with Karen's mother, Mabel Notagiacomo. A sort of spokesmother, I guess.

Mabel first scoffed at the notion of chickens as pets.

"Pets are supposed to be cute," she said. "I was raised on a farm, and there's not a damn thing cute about chickens."

"Beauty notwithstanding," I said, "Rose-Marie felt the chickens were a learning experience for her children."

"What can you learn from a chicken?" Mabel demanded. "They're the dumbest creatures alive outside a turkey."

We next addressed the question of the sex of the chickens. I broached the subject carefully, since I didn't want Mrs. Notagiacomo feeling I simply wanted to talk dirty with her.

"We taped 'em," she said, referring to the chickens. "No question about it, they were roosters. Wanna hear the tape?"

"Well, I don't think so."

"All I know is hens cluck. These crowed."

She thought about this for a moment, then added, "The worse thing for me was the rats. I love animals, but I don't love rats."

I asked Rose-Marie what she thought about that and she said, "It's all so petty," and hung up.

She was forced, however, by City Council order to get rid of the chickens. Whether or not the rats followed them into oblivion or are still hanging around the avocado trees I do not know.

I may never know. But I do know that my heart is still in Paris, where they have never heard of Culver City and where the chickens were sauteed in butter and garlic and served with a vintage bottle of oeil de perdrix.

They were delicious. Just thinking about it makes me feel like a Big Butter and Egg Man.

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