We brought home the six pullets1Or were they technically chicks?…many, many questions without answers. from the Radford Rural King on April 18, which means today marks 43 days at home, variations on heat-lamp-lit brooder box and pine shavings, then daytime hours in the run, then a chilly overnight in the coop maybe two weeks ago, and soon very soon, permanently in the coop and run. A. was generous to send me this photo today, the six in what I’m seeing as a lineup for possibly dried meal worms, possibly a dish of chopped vegetables. I’m not saying they’re spoiled; I’m just saying they’re friends, and what we know about friends is, treat them well.
Or were they technically chicks?…many, many questions without answers.
Funny in a way not funny that the last in the series of comfort inventories was titled Discomfort Inventory and posted two years ago in April, a run-down of WTF holy-smokes how the heat then was a’rising. That playful inversion, comfort marked dis-, fuckered the numbering system so now it’s unclear whether this one is CI 9 or CI 10. Executive decision consulting with the EWM advisory board: I’m going with CI 10, so let the footnotes resolve that Discomfort Inventory Unnumbered also was counted.
Owing to an upcoming WPA hiatus (or, more technically true, indefinite but careful and non-harmful evacuation of the role) I am at the end of June transitioning to the first email-unencumbered and otherwise work-appointment-free summer months in more than 14 years, the last ten of which were lurched along with one foot snagged in that bottomless and unpredictable quicksand of administrative responsibilities, late July surprises, and then some. Feels like something…different. Notably I would’ve thrown a handful of confetti for myself on-around May 12, but I was told I must oblige an unwritten rule that pins switch-over date on The Calendar at and only at June 30. Pope Gregory sighed in relief.
Is it possible at the age of 48 to have (meaning host) new feelings, or feelings unfelt before? If so, I have and am in that standing aside from writing program administration has elicited the faintest of mixes. Not bitter+sweet only, though that’s a familiar sentiment and not entirely distinct from this particular structure of feeling. Easier to name, the bittersweet. We have the word for this paradox. Oh, your feelings are crossed up? But right now, these work-facing feelings are curiously small, faint, light, but also complexly mixed and parts wow-wonderful with parts whoa-startling—sort of like at the froyo bar where the eager but ascetic everything-topper only takes the smallest unit possible: a shred of coconut, a violet petal, a fragment of toffee bar, a speck of syrup-soaked strawberry, one boba tapioca, a sprinklet, sugar granule, a raisin if you must. Don’t overdo it. Let me not get too too too lost in these feelings.
But then again I did order a chicken coop today to make better on a commitment to a different kind of holler life here in SW Virginia. I have the good fortune of working with a few chicken enthusiasts who are sharing with me and A. every possible angle to consider, from the hazards of automatic door closers (remember that Jim Johnson article?!; it’s sort of like that one fused with this one) to the predator barriers, to the problems and opportunities with chicken trucks/mobile coops, and so on. Get the heated water vessel, I’ve learned. Expect rodents to nosh the feed off-shed, I’m told. Park them under a canopy tree in the hottest heats of summertime. And so on.
We’ll start with six chickens. 🐔🐔🐔🐔🐔🐔
I received a Red Bubble take down notice the other day because the “rights holder” complained about one of my illustrations, from the Pandemic Bestiary, #18 Write (turkey hunched at a keyboard). The takedown notice, according to Red Bubble, was initiated by Virginia Tech. I contested it, of course, because I happen to have the Procreate file, which can play back the production process, and it includes the stroke count (1,082) and the time I spent on that drawing (3 hours, 13 minutes). I suppose it must be some sort of lax image-matching AI running interference on this sort of thing, and it turns out that it can be difficult to convince an AI that you are human, or that you, as a human, made something that to the AI’s still sort of iffy matching operations presumes your “original work” to belong to someone else. So it’s not possible for now to purchase a Pandemic Bestiary #18 Write sticker for under two dollars at Red Bubble. World turns. Loss of side-hustle counter-claim pending for .35 USD. Maybe I’ll follow-up on this, continue to chronicle the very low-level hijinks. Or maybe right along with that drawing everything pleasingly digressive and light-hearted and playful will be disappeared. Fun while it lasted!
For Monday’s Food Writing class we’re leafing the last of the semester’s readings, one from Savor, on apple eating, and another from A Pebble for Your Pocket, “Eating an Orange.” We’ll have apples and oranges. Write a 90. And maybe I’ll go one step farther, time allowing, with “Four Mantras,” because the opening line is in itself a simple—perhaps the simplest—theory of rhetoric: “A mantra is a magic formula. Every time you pronounce a mantra, you can transform a situation right away; you don’t have to wait” (111).
In January, on a phone call (following an email exchange) with longtime mentor LWP, I mentioned this line about mantras. She reminded me that the most reliable mantra she’d been advised to recite as an administrator came from one of her mentors: Be kind. Be fair. Be brave. Even as my WPAing decade winds down, perhaps this one can continue to transform situations. Teaching preparation situations. Absurd takedown notice situations. Chicken tending situations.
Nearly thirty years have gone by, but I can not forget that first job after high school, working for Coyne Oil & Propane. Didn’t have any description to pair with it, and I was 17, so didn’t pause to care for long about how the job was defined, what amounted to a do-anything unskilled generalist, some days refilling the windshield washer tubs mounted near the fuel terminal or sweeping the engine-leaks-absorbing clay pellets scattered on the concrete where fleet vehicles parked while fueling. Other days painting lines on parking spaces, emptying garbage, or loading grime-covered empty barrels by hand into the back of a semi trailer, one by one by one. When the weather cooperated, most days involved painting propane tanks. I wrote about it once before, several years ago (“Propane“), keying on some of the flashbacks to that job and how it was set up, the Ford half-ton flatbed I drove when the tanks were in the field and the rickety front loader whose hydraulics were so breezy, to hoist a tank initiated game show-like countdown, racing to paint the tank’s underside before it lowered to the ground.
It was an iffy first job. Minimum wage was, what?, maybe $4.25 an hour in 1991. The beige paint came in five gallon buckets with exclamatory warning labels about its toxicity and how you should avoid contact with your skin, but day in and day out for months my hands were covered with the stuff.
Iffy, too, were some of the situations that presented with the off-site, in-the-field painting. Some of the tanks were a mess–surfaces pocked and rusted and impossible to refinish with the limited tools I had available; many of the sites were heinous, too–tanks converged upon by tall weeds or branches, swallowed up by their surrounds, much of which the homeowners preferred to have left undisturbed. But there weren’t many rules, otherwise, and the only lines of communication were when one of the Coyne brothers who owned the company would receive a phone call of request or complaint.
The drawing up top returns again to the unforgettable excursion to a remote, wooded lot north of Farwell, Mich. A trailer in the trees with an ad hoc perimeter of chicken wire around, lazy-tacked stakes leaning, and inside that perimeter, the 330-gallon propane tank sat stably on blocks. I knocked on the door to alert them to my being there; but the adults inside were gravely ambivalent, vaguely gesturing “go on” without getting up from where they sat watching television. And in the side-yard, in that coop, all around the tank, dead, decaying chickens were strewn about right where the universe had left them–unfed to the point of starving, maybe, or subjected to a weasel’s spree. Who knows. Not the finest hour of my work life, tending to the job, stepping across the piles of putrid feathers abuzz with flies, getting out my painting supplies, pouring a roller pan full of beige paint, and rolling until the tank glistened, there in the shade. Naked or half-dressed, little kids ate cherry popsicles and watched from the window, onlookers almost like at one of those live sidewalk art performances in Chicago or New York, only humbler.
The memory comes up. This time, I drew about it, then wrote a few lines. Grand lessons, I don’t know, probably not. I do wonder if anyone has had to paint that tank since. How those kids are doing. Whether the residents got right with raising chickens and had a better go of it. Coop is of those memories that raises up any time I have a bad day at work. I suppose that’s why this was such a good first job after high school to have, painting propane tanks this way. At least it’s not that July 1991 excursion again. At least there aren’t dead and decaying chickens scattered about the place.