Another excerpt from Dead Friends (a satirical love story)

I’m A Chicken

To say that my girlfriend and I had been having problems is an understatement. It’s probably more accurate to state that we despised each other. We stopped taking each other seriously, and we definitely stopped having anything in common. But it’s hard to live alone, and since both of us were afraid of the dark and of expensive rent and lack of sex, we made things work. She accompanied me to philosophy conferences and Balkan music festivals, and I followed her to rallies to defend the rights of animals or people or whomever.

One thing she couldn’t stand was the way I mechanically nodded my head toward people as a form of acknowledgement. She said it reminded her of chickens, and although she loved animals, she hated chickens. She thought they were stupid and she hated stupidity. It never really occurred to me that I did that until a Farm Animals Unite benefit back in ’06. My girlfriend and I had gone to see the critically acclaimed exhibition of Portraits of Farm Animals, By Farm Animals. It was an unoriginal title for what was supposed to be a noteworthy exhibit, and most of the pieces were abstract – a tuft of lambs wool stomped on by a bloody hoof, goat feces strewn across a sheet of butcher paper with just a drop of dried milk at the edge of the fecal drawing, a single horse shoe print on a picture of the then President of America, Herbert Walker, jr.

I was nodding to a friend of a friend, when I noticed a piece titled Chicken Dinner Dead. I let go of my girlfriend’s hand and strolled over to take a closer gander. My girlfriend said something I didn’t understand and wandered away. Chicken Dinner Dead was mesmerizing. The chicken had stapled an amputated foot near the top left corner of the wall length canvas. Several feet of white spread between the foot and three groups of messily bunched feathers. Over this and the rest of the canvas a plethora of chicken wire was spread, with minute drips of blood hanging precariously from one place or another. It’s violence and minimalism spoke to me, and I couldn’t look away.

When my girlfriend reappeared, bringing our friends and her brother with her, I wasn’t done looking at the portrait. “It’s fucking amazing,” was all I could say. I didn’t look away, but I know that she and our friends were rolling their eyes, and she was becoming impatient. After all, she didn’t come to look at the art. She came to hear the great Jungian animal psychologist Bravo Marcksuh speak.

She tried to lure me away. “Do you want another glass of wine? I heard the horses helped press the grapes…”

I nodded.

After this we should go see the animal band in the petting zoo out on the mezzanine.” Her brother guffawed, I nodded.

And then we should get naked and smear pigs blood on our legs,” she added.

I nodded.

You’re not even listening!”

I nodded, then shook my head. “Yes. I’d love some wine.”

She thrust her cup in my hand and walked away as I studied the blood and feathers beneath the chicken wire.

The room grew louder as more people arrived. My concentration on the piece was broken every so often by the rustling sounds of hearty handshakes and back slaps or smooches just missing ruddy cheeks. As I flitted around the gallery, I was surprised to see so many familiar faces. I was more surprised that so many people I knew cared about the artwork of animals. I nodded to this and that person, chatted with others and became more overwhelmed by the minute. Instead of searching for my girlfriend, I decided to retreat to the Chicken Dinner Dead for protection against inane conversation. No one wanted to stare too long at the piece.

A woman wearing a cut up Earth’s First t-shirt cut into a scoop neck and three inch heels barelled right toward me. Casually leaning against a wall doesn’t afford one much time to dart out of the way. Before I could juke, she shoved my shoulder and shouted, “This shit doesn’t make any sense!”

I didn’t make it,” I said, lazily staring at her bare shoulders.

I didn’t say you did. I’m just saying that it’s garbage.”

Do you think the chicken would say so?”

I don’t think a chicken had anything to do with this!” She flung her beautifully manicured hands at the portrait to emphasize her point.

Why are you so mad at it?”

Can’t you see?” I saw that the pink lipstick she wore did not compliment her dark brown skin, clashed with her red nails. “They’re exploiting these animals!” She waved a frantic hand around the room, “They are exploiting art!”

What is art if it isn’t exploitation?” I was intrigued.

Expression!” Her eyebrows were joined at the center creating an even crease from her widow’s peak to her nose. “Art is expression!”

I decided to test out the idea I’d been turning over in my head, “You don’t think the chicken that created this could be expressing something? Perhaps the bird feels oppressed by its own body, exemplified by the violent way the chicken wire encases the feathers-”

I highly doubt that a chicken stretched this wire across it’s own bloody feathers!” (I’m always tickled when people from the UK say the word bloody.) She pulled a crumpled pack of cigarettes and a strike-anywhere match from her tight blue jeans.

Do you have an extra smoke?” I asked, ready to change the subject.

Hold on, let me get some wine.”

I have some here.” I’d been holding my girlfriend’s, and I offered it to my new favorite art critic who took it and turned to walk at the exact same time.

We weaved in and out of the animal pieces, strode purposefully down corridors of flannel-and-trucker-hat-wearing art fans chewing on glutinous chick’n wings or slurping down plastic cups of cheap red wine. In our hurry to get out of the gallery, we’d knock into a marble column, or an older matriarch from the beginning of the animals rights movement – both equally staunch in their positions, and both equally pale. My new British cohort, seeking to strike her match anywhere, did so on the hemp wallet protruding from the back pocket of one such witchey looking column. The sulfuric smell came as quickly as the puffs of smoke blowing from her face.

Out on the mezzanine, I was gulping down the cheap red wine left on the ledge. Each swallow brought a sweet tinge of sour on the back of my tongue, then slight burning in my esophagus. Standing under the stars next to this aggravated woman, feeling the dull consistent fire in my belly, I was alive! My head-nodding began to make sense as the dj’s mash up of Poison’s “Talk Dirty To Me” and Cher’s “Believe”, (with complimentary thunder from Dan the Automator) became louder and louder, propelling me toward my British comrade. I’ve never been much of a dancer, but there was no time to be self-conscious. As my head, then my entire body, began bouncing forward, my arms surrounded her and my hips pulsed toward her. I remember wondering – for only a second – if people were staring because they wanted to join in, or because she was trying to unbutton my shirt as I held a fist full of her hair. I’d sway, jerk, gyrate, my head continued to bob uncontrollably as great gusts of wind “Hah-huh-huh!” rushed from the scarred tissue in my chest. “Huh-huh-high! High!” Her warm breath melted every pore in my body. I could only see her crooked lips, impossible to kiss, while she knelt below my backward bending body, bucking wildly toward her.

I realized the music had stopped only when I started buttoning my pants. She was grinning, flipping her middle finger in every direction. People wandered away, shaking their pretty, liberated heads; I was still nodding my head like a damn chicken.

After I fucked that girl on the dance floor, in front of my girlfriend, her friends, her brother, and probably some squirmy board of directors, my girlfriend left me. Understandable. I didn’t try to win her back. But she didn’t just leave me. She disavowed of me. She burned every single shirt I had ever lent her, made little balls out of my stray pubic hairs in her sheets and torched them as well. Every scrap and scrape of my dna, my very existence, was burned from her life, from her memory. I was told she had a memorial for me. Her therapist suggested that it was part of the letting go process. She invited our mutual friends to a memorial at the queer temple in town and announced that I was dead to her. Dead to her.

Understandably, most of our friends decided that I was a liability as a friend, and they too disavowed of me. They too began to regard me, for lack of a better term, as dead.

In spite of the fact that we hadn’t been in love in years, a sort of malaise settled over my body. I didn’t want to go out. After a month of friends not returning my phone calls, it started to feel as though nothing in the world mattered. In a last ditch effort to reach out to anyone who might remotely care about me, I looked up Angie DiLaggio. I finally tracked down someone who used to know us both back in the day. When he picked up the phone, I could almost imagine him spitting out his latte.

Jesse Pilou? Uh, you might not remember me…” I spent about two full minutes describing myself and why I was calling.

Angie Di Laggio? Whoa. Yeah. She died in like ’94…”

I could feel my heart speed up as I remembered her and Chuckie and the snack machine, but I didn’t remember her dying. How could I forget something like that?

What happened?” I asked earnestly.

Damn, you know, I don’t really remember? That was almost 20 years ago. I didn’t really know her.”

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