Last year, I joked that I was the official poultry reporter for the Gabber Newspaper. When the paper and I parted ways last month, I felt a twinge that my livestock days were over. But then the Universe grabbed me by the ear, twisted, and said, “Not so fast, girlie.”
This is not my duck. Honest. But I have a stake in its future.
So here’s what happened: I want chickens. Oh, I don’t want to own them. While I find poultry in general just delicious, the chicken component of that category disgusts me. They’re mean and they don’t taste that good, unless they’re fried in buttermilk. Their eggs, however, taste delicious. I love eggs in all forms: deviled, fried, hard-boiled, poached, scrambled, egg salad… You get the idea.
Now, as much as I don’t like chickens, I hate the idea of factory farming eggs or chickens, so when I buy eggs, I buy free-range eggs, which costs about $4 a dozen. For someone who loves eggs, that can get expensive, so I thought, hey, if I could get eggs from some of my chicken-rearing neighbors, I could save some money. The easiest way to make this happen was to buy two chickens myself and bribe my neighbor Leigh to raise them for me. I’ll buy her chicken food as she needs it, and in return, I get the eggs.
So last week I went with Leigh to get the chicks, because really, that’s the least I can do for my chicken surrogate, right? Before I leave my house to pick up Leigh, her husband Mike – who was in the midst of removing a load-bearing wall from our kitchen area – begged me, “Please don’t let her bring home a duck” and I thought what the hell? because ducks are illegal as pets in Gulfport and Leigh has always seemed sane. Well, sane for Gulfport. It’s a sliding scale. Also, we were getting chickens. I assume Mike is confused, and I assure him I can keep his sweet little wife from buying a duck. I tell him he has nothing to fear and encourage him to resume focusing all his energy in making absolutely certain my roof won’t collapse when we remove the wall separating the kitchen and living room.
When will I learn?
Leigh and I walk into Animal House, and she shows me the chicks and explains which ones give which colored eggs. She’s kind of an egg color expert. And then she shows me this duckling, and I feel a vague sense of alarm. I imagine it’s how men feel when the woman they love walks into a room and asks, “Notice anything different?”
The lone duckling, I note, seems to be fairly listless, and also the object of much pecking. His feet are bloody. He’s missing down from his neck, where instead I see itty-bitty, duckling-sized scabs. He tries to stand move away from the chicks, who think he tastes just delicious, thank you, but every time he stands, the chicks see the blood on his feet and go crazy pecking. I remembers one of the reasons I don’t like factory-farmed chickens is the practice of clipping their beaks, and all of a sudden I also remember why they clip the beaks. My throat gets thick, memories of this book wash over me, and I tell Leigh I’m going to look at the adoptable puppies, because I am about 45 seconds from having to explain to El Cap why I bought a duck, and right now we’re in the middle of remodeling a kitchen and I honestly don’t think he can handle livestock, too.
When I stroll back over, Leigh is passionately arguing with the 15-year-old clerk about the state of the duckling’s health. He tells her the duckling is “just fine” and that it’s “normal” for it to be bloody and pecked at by chickens. Meanwhile, Leigh is texting a coworker who grew up on a farm, asking him to please save the duckling, and he texts her back “I have chickens. Chickens and ducks don’t get along.” Leigh reads this message, shows me, looks at the duckling trying to hide his open, bloody wounds from about 20 pecking chicks, and I sigh. I feel the steel jaws of the trap close.
“Who do we know who can take this duckling, because I can’t, Leigh. I have two hound dogs and two cats,” I tell her, thinking to myself: And El Cap. Calypso will kill the duck, El Cap will kill me, and the cats will feast on my remains.
And so a plan is born. Leigh is going to get the duck and find a home for it. I buy my chickens, Leigh buys the duck, and we head back to her house. And then I head home, poultry-free, where Mike pauses from shoring up my roof to give me a long, hard look.
“Do I own a duck?” he asks me, quietly and (I think) a little too calmly. I am suddenly aware of the preponderance of power tools – including a pneumatic nail gun – easily within Mike’s reach.
“It’s temporary,” I say, backing away slowly.
“The bird was temporary,” he says, and mutters a few other things I choose to interpret as love for his bride.
What Leigh didn’t tell me until later was that the scrawny, indifferent young store clerk also told her that if the chicks didn’t kill the duck by the next morning they’d likely have to do it themselves. And then she promised me she would never go to Animal House again, and I decided I wouldn’t, either, because really, the small animals they sell really shouldn’t be sold, not as pets. The best thing I can do is not give them my business, and the best thing Leigh can do for her marriage is stop going places where there are mistreated animals she feels compelled to “rescue.”
Leigh and Mike are keeping the duck, even though it’s illegal, because Mike (for all his big bad talk about not wanting it) named it, and everyone knows once you name something, you have to keep it. Which is why I never suggest baby names to my friends. And, apparently, no one’s going to arrest Leigh for the illegal duck, because that is kind of a dick thing to do, and if no one’s arresting the people who own the illegal pig (true story) or the goats (also a true story), who’s sending a duck rescuer to jail?
So, you know, everyone wins, except George, because that’s not a great name for a duck. I wanted to call him Lowell, but apparently I don’t get a vote. Which is fine. And, hey, I’ll have fresh eggs from Yasmin and Foghorn P. in just a few months.