Transcript

3:

Poultry Slam 1995
Transcript

Originally aired 12.01.1995

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Full audio: http://tal.fm/3

Act One.

Ira Glass

In Danielle's house, ever since she was a girl, when dinner comes, sometimes they serve a meal that might look familiar to you. Here's the main course. On a big platter, picture drumsticks, white breast meat, golden brown skin.

Somebody carves this. Perhaps on a holiday, there's stuffing and cranberry relish on the side. And in Danielle's family, they have a name for this meal. As she told me on the phone recently, the name for this meal is--

Danielle

Fish.

Ira Glass

Got that?

Danielle

Fish.

Ira Glass

Well, from WBEZ Chicago, it is Your Radio Playhouse, a special program tonight on the wonders of "fish." Actually, we can say the word here. And the word would be "poultry."

We are in the interregnum of poultry. We stand at this moment between the poultry of Thanksgiving and the poultry of Christmas. This is the peak poultry moment in our American year. Something like a fourth, a little less than a fourth of all the turkey consumed in this country consumed during these few weeks.

And to honor that, we bring you this evening an odd variety of stories and things you would not hear elsewhere, as we always do of course. Things you not would hear elsewhere-- just transpose the words of that sentence yourselves at home. I'm not going to do that for you-- about turkeys, chickens, ducks, fowl of all kind and their mysterious hold over us.

Well, I am Ira Glass. A Chicago poet actually named Jim Banks suggested a special name for this special poultry edition of this Your Radio Playhouse. His suggestion, "A Poultry Slam," after, of course, the poetry slams the we hold here in Chicago, in the venerable paneled darkness of the Green Mill Cocktail Lounge each Sunday. Coming up this hour, David Sedaris, Luis Rodriguez, and other writers and radio heroes. And of course, of course, of course, what poultry-positive radio program could be complete without--

Man 1

Chickenman!

Women

He's everywhere. He's everywhere!

Ira Glass

Yes, indeed. In the late 1960s, the winged warrior Chickenman struck terror in the hearts of evildoers everywhere, on Chicago radio first and then across the nation. Tonight, we're going to bring you a historic first, the first new episode since 1969, later. That will be later, later.

See, because we're savvy broadcasters here. Even though it's public broadcasting, we're going to make you wait 'til later in the show for that. We know many of you are tuning in for that, and we're going to make you wait.

OK, to return to our story. Danielle's family. The power of poultry is so great in their lives that when they serve chicken or turkey, they call it--

Danielle

Fish.

Ira Glass

That's right. And they call it this for a reason. And the reason has to do with this stuffed hand puppet called Duki.

A little background, Danielle is 28 years old, editor at Details magazine in New York City, a very fashionable magazine. Her sister, Ashley, two years younger, now a graduate student at the University of Michigan. And Duki has been in the family since they were children.

Danielle

Well, he was a Christmas present when Ashley was about eight and I was about 10. And when he first arrived he was really fluffy. And he was this beautiful, fluffy, white duck. And he had a cape on and black kind of villain/hero goggles. I guess we'd call it hero goggles. And I think he was, because there was an S on his cape, I'm sure he was supposed to be Superduck or something.

And he's a puppet. He lost the outfit pretty quickly, and he went naked. And then he became Ashley's vehicle for torturing me.

Ira Glass

Now it is not unusual for older siblings to dominate younger ones. And as children, Danielle pretty much would dominate Ashley. Danielle always got her way, except, except when Duki was around.

And basically what would happen is Ashley would channel-- that's kind of an anachronism to use that word in this context-- but Ashley would channel Duki's voice. She would speak as Duki. She would produce the Duki-like voice. And Duki was sarcastic and selfish and bossy. Duki would insult and tease Danielle and give her painful nose squeaks.

Danielle

Whenever Ashley brought Duki into the equation, he was completely the dominant force. I was just putty in Duki's hands.

Ira Glass

Let me ask you to compare his personality with Ashley's personality.

Danielle

Ashley's very considerate. She's very considerate and kind and thoughtful, and very, very sensitive to other people. Very, very concerned about if other people are happy or if someone else doesn't feel good. And Duki has this total "What's for lunch?" attitude, like "What's in it for me?" in your face, totally out for himself, simultaneously a braggart and a total wimp.

Ira Glass

He's boastful and vain.

Danielle

He's just this indomitable spirit. Well, lately, he's at U Mich with my sister. And he tried out for the football team. They've got a good football team there.

Ira Glass

Nationally ranked.

Danielle

And he said he didn't make it. But he said it was because they thought he'd be more valuable in the band. And they got a good band, too. So apparently, he goes to band practice every day.

And they've got him playing the triangle. He's playing the triangle in the band. And he couldn't come home for Thanksgiving because he had to go be at practice.

Ira Glass

18 years after Duki arrived in the Mattoon household, I can say, I think fairly accurately, that the fluffy whiteness is long gone. "Fluffy" is not a word-- you would never use that word with Duki anymore. Nor is two-eyed, actually, if I remember correctly.

Danielle

What he looks like, physical-- he's like a slightly pathetic-looking grey, tattered thing.

Ira Glass

Very tattered.

Danielle

Very tattered. But then the fact that his brain, like what's coming out of his mouth, is in complete denial about who he actually is. I don't know. There's just something really, really great about that. And really, you have to love-- you love him for it.

Ira Glass

OK, I have been at Danielle's house sometimes and witnessed the following scene. Picture this. Danielle has not spoken with her sister in weeks, picks up the phone, calls her sister Ashley in Michigan. Ashley answers. Danielle asks immediately, "Can you put Duki on the line?" And then Ashley essentially becomes Duki, puts Duki on the line. Danielle talks to Duki for 15, 20 minutes. And then they both hang up. That's the whole conversation. And they both feel satisfied.

Danielle

I adore Duki. I really love Duki. And sometimes I think if he disappeared, it would really feel like someone died. I mean, I look at him and he looks really old and ratty. And it really makes me sad.

Really, I feel like-- it sounds crazy. It really makes me sad to think about a world without Duki, and that it would be a big, empty hole in the world. He takes up as much room in my heart as a lot of people individually. And if something happened to him, if he were lost at an airport or run over by a car, it would really be heartbreaking.

Ira Glass

So I hope that it's becoming clear why, when you eat dinner in the home of Danielle's family, if they are serving some kind of poultry, chicken or turkey, if you ask anyone in the family what's for dinner, they'll tell you--

Danielle

Fish.

Ira Glass

Right. And the rationale for that is what?

Danielle

It freaks Duki out.

Ira Glass

It freaks him out, though-- you don't like him to know that perhaps some birds are, in fact, eaten?

Danielle

I think he knows. I think he's in denial about it. He's in denial about most things. He's in denial about the fact that he's totally weak and tiny and dirty. He thinks he's really good-looking and strong, and that he's really smart and has a lot of friends.

He's in denial about the fact that he's actually stuffed, which he is. Sometimes I tell him that. I say, "Duki, give me a break. You're just stuffed." And he's like, "No way."

Ira Glass

Now I thought I would try to book Duki to come on the radio for this show. So a few weeks ago, I contacted Danielle's sister, Ashley. And I asked her if Duki could come on the air.

And I didn't get a call back. I got an answer back by electronic mail that for Duki to appear, I would have to call someone named Yona Lu, who I could reach through Danielle and Ashley's mom. And when I talked with Danielle, I asked her about this.

Ira Glass

I've been informed that the only way that I can reach him is by calling your mom and speaking to Yona Lu? Do I have that name right?

Danielle

Yona Lu, yeah. I think she's acting as his agent.

Ira Glass

Yona Lu is--

Danielle

She's a hedgehog.

Ira Glass

Anything special that I should say to Yona Lu?

Danielle

I don't know. She's drives a pretty hard bargain.

Mrs. Mattoon

Hello?

Ira Glass

Hey, Mrs. Mattoon?

Mrs. Mattoon

Yes.

Ira Glass

It's Ira Glass.

Mrs. Mattoon

Hi, Ira Glass.

Ira Glass

Mrs. Mattoon, here's why I called you. I want to do a little story on the radio about Duki.

Mrs. Mattoon

Duki.

Ira Glass

Duki. And I contacted your daughter, Ashley. And she said that for me to book Duki on to my radio show, I was going to first need to contact Yona Lu.

Mrs. Mattoon

Yeah, you would need to do that.

Ira Glass

And that I needed to do that through you.

Mrs. Mattoon

Yeah.

Ira Glass

Who is Yona Lu?

Mrs. Mattoon

Yona Lu is-- she's a hedgehog. She's basically taken charge of Duki's financial affairs. And I presume this has something to do with money?

Ira Glass

I don't know, actually. I mean, we--

Mrs. Mattoon

That's probably why she said to contact Yona Lu.

Ira Glass

Well, so what do I do now? I was told to contact you if I wanted to get in touch with Yona Lu in order to book Duki. What do I do next?

Mrs. Mattoon

Book Duki, OK. You're going to book Duki.

Ira Glass

That's the whole idea. I want to book Duki for the show, for an interview.

Mrs. Mattoon

Well, I'll just talk to Yona Lu about it. She says OK, it's OK.

Ira Glass

Will Yona Lu want to discuss terms or something?

Mrs. Mattoon

She doesn't talk.

Ira Glass

So what's going to happen? All right. Should I call you back?

Mrs. Mattoon

You could call me back. Or I'd just go in and check.

Ira Glass

You'll just go in and check.

Mrs. Mattoon

Yeah.

Ira Glass

Should I wait?

Mrs. Mattoon

Yeah.

Ira Glass

All right, I'll wait.

Mrs. Mattoon

Ira?

Ira Glass

Yeah.

Mrs. Mattoon

This is just radio?

Ira Glass

Yeah.

Mrs. Mattoon

Not TV?

Ira Glass

It's just radio.

Mrs. Mattoon

And nobody's going to get to be on TV?

[LAUGHTER]

Ira Glass

No, no one's going to be on TV. No, it's strictly radio.

Mrs. Mattoon

OK, Yona Lu doesn't care what happens then.

Ira Glass

What if it were TV?

Mrs. Mattoon

I think she'd want to be on, too.

[LAUGHTER]

Mrs. Mattoon

Radio doesn't do much for her, she doesn't talk.

Ira Glass

OK. In Danielle's family-- I guess you're figuring this out. There's Duki. There's Yona Lu. And then there are four or five other characters, Therese-- I can never keep all their names straight-- who live in this world that's fleshed out with a lot of vivid detail and drama. They have a club called The Smart Set, and people are forever falling in and out of favor with The Smart Set.

Anyway, there are jealousies. There are rivalries. People fight for favors and treats and invitations to ice cream socials. And each of the characters corresponds to some stuffed doll that Danielle and Ashley received as children.

Though a few months ago, Danielle and Ashley were talking. And they realized that one of the characters, Guy Frank, didn't seem to correspond to any particular doll that they could remember. Where did he come from?

They attempted to recall this. And then one of them did. Guy Frank is Duki's imaginary friend. Duki is such a fully realized imaginary friend that he has his own imaginary friend.

As you might imagine, not everyone in the family takes all this so lightly. Danielle's father, for example, was never too keen on it.

Mrs. Mattoon

He was quite actually bothered by the whole-- he thought we maybe had a problem in the family.

Ira Glass

Really?

Mrs. Mattoon

Mm-hmm. For a while there, we had two daughters that only communicated through a duck.

Ira Glass

Yeah. That period that you're describing, when do you mean?

Mrs. Mattoon

I would say they maybe were 10 and 12 or 9 and 11.

Ira Glass

And they would only communicate through the duck?

Mrs. Mattoon

Well, Danielle didn't pay a whole lot of attention to Ashley but she paid quite a lot of attention to the duck. So if Ashley wanted to get Danielle's attention all she had to do was rev up the duck. Danielle thought Duki was very funny, but I can't remember her thinking Ashley was funny.

Danielle

In terms of the relationship between my sister and me, this is probably completely really sick. But I have so much genuine affection and love for Duki that it's very easy to demonstrate those feelings. It's not as easy to demonstrate those feelings toward my sister, just because we never got in the habit of it.

Ira Glass

What percentage of your relationship with your sister is based on your relationship with Duki?

Danielle

Well, the really fun part of it is based on my relationship with Duki. But I think kind of a big chunk. It definitely gives me this vision into her brain that I wouldn't have otherwise.

Ira Glass

Well, I did finally snag an interview with Duki by calling Ashley.

Ira Glass

Is Duki still up for this?

Ashley

Yeah. He just got back from a party, though.

Ira Glass

He just got back from a party?

Ashley

Yeah. He was at a happy hour thing with a lot of college students. He's not in college. But he's in the band, so a lot of his friends go to this happy hour on Friday night.

Ira Glass

OK. Well, could you get him?

Ashley

Sure. He's upstairs. Just a sec. Here he is.

Ira Glass

Hey, Duki?

Duki

Yeah? Hey, Ira, how you doing?

Ira Glass

I'm just fine.

Duki

Long time no see.

Ira Glass

Long time no see, back at you. And welcome to our little radio program.

Duki

So what's going on here? You got a whole bunch of celebrities on tonight?

Ira Glass

Well, we actually have a number of different people?

Duki

Real celebs, like, Tom Cruise?

[LAUGHTER]

Ira Glass

They're just like Tom Cruise, yes. Yeah. Now, Duki, I was talking to Danielle for our radio program and had her come on and talk about you a little bit. And one of the things that she said was that when she was younger, in order to discipline her, if she was doing something that you didn't like, you could pretty much control her with something called "nose squeaks."

Duki

Yeah. Because she has this kind of-- it's a prominent nose, you know what I mean? It kind of sticks out. And you just want to squeak it. Like over Thanksgiving, we were watching The Muppet Show, and Miss Piggy was on. And she reminded me a lot of Nielly.

Ira Glass

Of Danielle.

Duki

Mm-hmm. Yeah. And Kermit told Miss Piggy, "Move the pork." And so I was telling Nielly to move the pork all week.

Ira Glass

And would she move?

Duki

Yes, she would. She would.

Ira Glass

Now if Ashley would tell her, if Ashley would sit down on the couch and say to Danielle, "Move the pork," what would the effect of that be?

Duki

You know Nielly. You know how she looks at you when she doesn't approve of something you say or do? She gets this kind of ice-cold stare, and she gives you this side long glance that makes you feel like you're about the size of a pea?

Ira Glass

Yeah.

Duki

That's what she does. She not as critical of me.

Ira Glass

Is there anything about the life of a duck that perhaps you could tell our radio audience that we might not know? I'm sure that you know much more about it than we do.

Duki

No, not really. I'm kind of an unusual duck. I'm not really in touch with the whole duck scene, you know?

Ira Glass

You're not in touch with the whole scene, yeah.

Duki

When I had time, I used to migrate once in a while, because I had some friends who are ducks. And I try to keep in touch with them. But lately, I've just started spending more time with people and doing my own thing. And I just don't have time to do those duck things anymore. I just wanted more in my life than that.

[MUSIC PLAYING - "SATURDAY NIGHT FISH FRY" BY LOUIS JORDAN]

Ira Glass

Well, the story of a 26-year-old graduate student who talks like a duck brings us naturally to the subject of Chickenman. Chickenman first soared the radio airwaves from 1966 to 1969. And nearly every day, there would be a new episode for three years. These are short, little two-minute things, starting on WCFL here in our beloved Chicago.

And after that, Chickenman appeared on over 1,500 radio stations across the country, around the world. According to the people who syndicate it these are the numbers. They say it's been translated into German, Dutch, and Swedish. It is still on the air, they say, in several dozen markets, making it one of the longest-running radio features anywhere.

Chickenman began years before National Public Radio existed. It will probably continue years after we are gone. Like the mighty cockroach, like, I don't know, the bagel, like Hamlet, Chickenman endures, will endure.

Coming up later in the show, we'll have the first new Chickenman episode since 1969. Have we mentioned this enough in the show? Should we just mention it every time? Every time we open the mike, I should just mention that? It was written especially for our broadcast by Dick Orkin, the voice of Chickenman. But before we hear that, let's just hear what all the fuss was about.

Chickenman Announcer

Now, another exciting episode in the life of the most fantastic crimefighter the world has ever known.

Chickenman

Bock bock bock bock!

Man 1

Chickenman!

Women

He's everywhere, he's everywhere!

Chickenman Announcer

Benton Harbor, employed as a shoe salesman for a large downtown department store, spends his weekends, his only two days off, striking terror into the hearts of criminals everywhere as the white-winged warrior called Chickenman. How did it come about that Benton Harbor, weekend winged warrior, selected the visage of the chicken in his crusade against the forces of evil? Now it can be told.

Woman

Yes, may I help you?

Benton Harbor

How do you do? I'm looking for a costume.

Woman

Well, what did you have in mind?

Benton Harbor

Something that will strike terror into the hearts of criminals everywhere.

Woman

I see. Well, how about this?

Benton Harbor

Hmm. No, I don't think so.

Woman

Why not try it on?

Benton Harbor

Very well.

Woman

Here, I'll help you.

Benton Harbor

Thank you.

Woman

There you are. Now take a look in the mirror.

Benton Harbor

Hmm. Not bad. I wonder if you would permit me to conduct a quick experiment outside this store.

Woman

Certainly.

Benton Harbor

Pardon me, sir.

Criminal

Yeah?

Benton Harbor

Are you by chance a vicious criminal?

Criminal

Uh-huh.

Benton Harbor

Fine. Would you take a look at this costume I'm wearing?

Criminal

Yeah.

Benton Harbor

Do you feel anything strange?

Criminal

Uh--

Benton Harbor

Anything at all?

Criminal

Uh, yeah.

Benton Harbor

And what is that?

Criminal

I'd like to kiss you.

Benton Harbor

Kiss me?

Criminal

Yeah.

Benton Harbor

How do you account for that?

Criminal

Because you look like an adorable bunny rabbit.

Woman

Well, how did it go?

Benton Harbor

What else do you have?

Woman

A Teddy bear and a chicken.

Benton Harbor

A Teddy bear?

Woman

It'd be cute.

Benton Harbor

Wrap up the chicken, please.

Chickenman Announcer

Be listening tomorrow for another exciting episode in the life of the most fantastic crimefighter the world has ever known.

Chickenman

Bock bock bock bock!

Man 2

Chickenman!

Women

He's everywhere, he's everywhere!

Ira Glass

The all-new Chickenman, coming up at the end of our show. But next, a real-life story of real poultry and a real poultry farm. Stay with us, won't you?

Act Two.

Julie Showalter

I'm Julie Showalter. I grew up on a turkey farm in southwest Missouri. "The night 3,000 turkeys died." The day before the night that 3,000 turkeys died, we moved 13,000 turkeys to the range.

This requires some explanation. Turkeys spend their first 16 weeks in a heated brooder house. When they are 16 weeks old, they are put outside to range in fenced enclosures.

Daddy decided we would herd them to the range. It looked simple enough. We made a temporary chute of wire fencing that ran from the double-end doors of the brooder house 50 yards to the pen. We would get behind the turkeys in the brooder house, shout, wave old shirts and gunny sacks at them, and they would run out the doors, through the chute, into the pen.

And that's the way it worked in the first brooder house. The first turkeys hesitated at the door, walked out cautiously, then moved through the chute and dispersed. The rest followed. It took about an hour. Daddy was pleased. "Let's work straight through," he said. "We'll be done by 10:00."

By the time the turkeys have been in a brooder house for 16 weeks, the air is filled with ammonia, feather particles, and dust. The stench is overwhelming. After an hour in the brooder house, your lungs hurt for a day.

You can contract disabling lung diseases from working only a week in a poultry house. Tiny barbed pieces of feather dig into the tissue of your lung and never let go. But we didn't know that then.

We moved the temporary fence to the doors of the second brooder house. When we threw open the doors at the end of the second house, it was 9:00 in the morning. The sun streamed in the open doors on turkeys that had never seen direct sunlight.

The one thing you can count on with turkeys is that you never know how they are going to react. I've seen turkeys clamber against a fence trying to get into a range fire. I've seen them rush toward a screaming child, trying to kill it. And I've seen them run from a screaming child, spooked and terrified.

These turkeys didn't want to go into the sun. As we pushed from behind, they compacted. It was like an old adventure movie where the walls are closing in. But there was no wall at the end, only a patch of sunlight which turkeys would not touch.

We yelled louder, waved our cloths, kicked at the ones in the rear. Finally, Daddy walked through the solid carpet of turkeys to break the logjam at the front. He stood at the edge of the sunlight, lifting the turkeys three or four at a time with his feet, stirring them with this legs, forcing them into the sun.

Suddenly, they broke free. As stubbornly as they had refused to go into the light, they now rushed toward it. They ran in a panic, piling on top of each other, knocking down the temporary fence. By the time Daddy could get the doors closed, at least 1,000 turkeys had escaped and were running free on the farm, onto our neighbor's farm, into the road.

We didn't own the turkeys. We raised them for a company that owned the hatchery, the feed mill, the fleet of trucks that delivered and loaded the turkeys, the processing plant. We got a portion of the profits, if there were profits.

With 1,000 turkeys gone, there would be no profits on this flock. 16 weeks of Daddy working 14-hour days, of my sisters and me working alongside him any time we weren't in school, all for no pay. And if we weren't paid for this flock, we would have no cash coming in until the next flock was raised.

It took us eight hours to round up the escaped turkeys, four of us trying to track down 1,000 birds that had the whole world in which to hide and run from us. The sun beat down, and the air was thick and humid. We stopped once for water, and my sister, Billie, the youngest of us, just 11, vomited from the cold water hitting her stomach after hours of sun, heat, and dehydration.

As she lay on the ground, shaking and holding her stomach, I hated her for being the one too sick to continue. But even she was not too sick. We all went on. She got an extra five minutes to rest, but we all went on.

You may be asking right now how my father could be so cruel, how he could work young girls like that? Or you may think that I'm exaggerating, that self-pity has magnified our distress. I tell you, this is no exaggeration. And I tell you, my father had no choice. Or that any choice he had was so far in the past that there was no unraveling it. Years later, when we were grown, we caught a glimpse of his guilt, his bitterness over what he had done to us. "I couldn't afford niggers," he told my sister Billie. "So I had daughters."

At 6 o'clock, we rebuilt the chute. We opened the doors, and the 6,000 remaining turkeys, the sun now low in the sky behind them, walked through to the pen. We cleaned up. We ate supper. And we went to bed. That's the day we had before the night 3,000 turkeys died.

At midnight, Mother woke us up. "We have to get to the pen. Daddy needs us." We had been too exhausted to hear the storm. We ran out in the driving rain. Flashes of lightning showed Daddy picking up turkeys and throwing them, one after the other.

When people learn I grew up on a turkey farm, they invariably ask, "Is it true? Are they really so stupid that they open their mouths in the rain, look up at the sky, and drown?" The answer is yes, some of them do that. They are that stupid. But that's not how 3,000 die in one night.

They die because they are scared, and they huddle together in their fear. They climb on top of each other, trying to get close, to find protection in the mass of bodies. And they suffocate.

We called it piling. It wasn't unusual for a loud noise to cause a pile in the brooder house. If there wasn't someone to pull them off each other, 50 could die because someone slammed a door.

But this was worse than any pile we'd seen, turkeys who'd never spent a night outdoors panicked by thunder, lightning, and rain in sheets. All we could do is pull them out of the pile and throw them away from it. They would run back, still seeking the comfort of the group.

After a while standing in mud, grabbing soaked turkeys, throwing them, grabbing more, you don't know if the ones you are throwing are dead or alive. You don't care. Maybe we saved some.

The next day, the sky was cloudless, and the sun bore down on us again. We picked up dead turkeys, throwing them onto the back of a flatbed truck. Daddy drove the truck into a field far from the house. He poured gasoline on them and struck a match. They burned for days.

Ira Glass

Well, Julie Showalter lives in Burr Ridge, Illinois, and says that she still does eat turkey. Well, twice a year, she eats it. And this is the special Poultry Slam edition of Your Radio Playhouse, coming to you from WBEZ in Chicago. Stay with us, won't you?

Act Three.

Luis Rodriguez

This is Luis Rodriguez. And I'm going to read my poem, "The Rooster Who Thought it Was a Dog." Echo Park mornings came on the wings of a rooster's gnawing squawk. This noise, unfortunately, also brought in the afternoon, evenings, and most hours of the day. The rooster had no sense of time, nor any desire to commit to one. He'd cock-a-doodle whenever he had the notion.

For late sleepers, day sleepers, or your plain, ordinary, run of the mill night sleepers, annoyance had this rooster's beak. It was enough to drive one crazy. Often, I open my back window that faced the alley just across from the backyard where the rooster made his home. "Shut up, or I'll blow your stinking brains out," I'd yell. Great communication technique.

It worked on the brats next door, but the rooster never flinched. With calm aplomb, it continued to squawk. For one thing, the rooster never gave out a bona fide cock-a-doodle. It sort of shouted it out.

It happened that the rooster lived with three dogs, a German Shepherd and two mutts. The dogs barked through their existence. They barked at everything in sight. I finally concluded that rooster thought it was a dog. Somehow, I didn't mind the dogs barking. But when a rooster barks, that's murder.

In fact, I often saw it running alongside the dogs as they raced across the dirt yard, barking at passing cars or people. If the dogs went left, the rooster went left. They'd go right, and dang if that rooster didn't go right as well. Now I don't know if this is a regular condition for roosters.

I thought I had a story for the Weekly World News. I could see it now. "The Rooster Who Thinks it's a Dog." Who knows what rooster dementia we had here? And whether the rooster chased cats up trees or pissed on fire hydrants, this wasn't clear.

But once I grasped the heart of the matter, I began to see the rooster in another light. I felt sorry for this fowl with an identity problem. And I wondered how it must react when its owners threw chicken bones to the dogs. Would it nibble on the remains of its favorite hen? I shuddered at the thought.

Yet despite the revelation of the rooster's bark, the problem of sleep didn't end. Then one day, a new neighbor, a young lady, who often drank herself to bliss, got a gun and blew the rooster away. She became somewhat of a local hero.

I must say, though, it was an unfitting end for the bird. But I suppose one can tolerate barking dogs. But barking roosters? That's another matter altogether.

[MUSIC PLAYING - "A CHICKEN AIN'T NOTHIN' BUT A BIRD" BY CAB CALLOWAY]

Chickenman Announcer

Now, another exciting episode in the life of the most fantastic crimefighter the world has ever known.

Chickenman

Bock bock bock bock!

Man 1

Chickenman!

Women

He's everywhere, he's everywhere!

Chickenman Announcer

The office of the Police Commissioner of Midland City.

[TELEPHONE RINGING]

Miss Helfinger

Hello, this is the commissioner--

Benton Harbor

Miss Helfinger, this is the winged warrior.

Miss Helfinger

Yes, what is it?

Benton Harbor

Please inform the commissioner that I'm now all set for test sequence number one.

Miss Helfinger

What?

Benton Harbor

It's all primed and ready to go.

Miss Helfinger

What are you talking about?

Benton Harbor

The chicken missile, Miss Helfinger.

Miss Helfinger

The chicken missile?

Benton Harbor

Yes. So tell the commissioner I'm ready for test sequence number one.

[INTERCOM BUZZING]

Police Commissioner

Yes, Miss Helfinger?

Miss Helfinger

Commissioner, the chicken missile is ready to go.

Police Commissioner

Huh?

Miss Helfinger

The chicken missile.

Police Commissioner

Oh, yes, of course. The--

Miss Helfinger

And it's ready for test sequence number one.

Police Commissioner

Test sequence number one.

Miss Helfinger

Number one.

Police Commissioner

Well, that's very nice, very nice, yes.

Miss Helfinger

Hello, winged warrior.

Benton Harbor

Right here, Miss Helfinger.

Miss Helfinger

The commissioner said that's very nice.

Benton Harbor

Oh, fine. In that case, Miss Helfinger, have the commissioner stand by with the chicken missile receiver.

Miss Helfinger

What?

Benton Harbor

I'm going to count down--

Miss Helfinger

Listen.

Benton Harbor

[INAUDIBLE]. We'll see you at 1400 hours.

[TELEPHONE HANGING UP]

Miss Helfinger

Hello, wait--

[INTERCOM BUZZING]

Police Commissioner

Yes, Miss Helfinger?

Miss Helfinger

Commissioner?

Police Commissioner

Yes.

Miss Helfinger

If I would say to you, "Prepare the chicken missile receiver," would you know--

Police Commissioner

No, I wouldn't.

Miss Helfinger

I didn't think you would. Commissioner?

Police Commissioner

Yes.

Miss Helfinger

I would suggest that you crouch under your desk.

Police Commissioner

Crouch under my desk?

Miss Helfinger

Yes, it should provide some protection.

Police Commissioner

From--

[CRASHING NOISES]

[COUGHING]

Police Commissioner

What?

Miss Helfinger

From the chicken missile.

Police Commissioner

Oh.

Chickenman Announcer

Wow. Say, that chicken missile really works nifty. Will the Midland City Fire Department recommend that a chicken missile receiver be installed in what's left of Midland City Hall? Be listening tomorrow for another exciting episode in the life of the most fantastic crimefighter the world has ever known.

Chickenman

Bock bock bock bock!

Man 1

Chickenman!

Women

He's everywhere, he's everywhere!

Ira Glass

More Chickenman. That all-new episode, coming up.

Act Four.

Ira Glass

In the meantime, my friend Verta tells this story. Verta, Vertamae Grosvenor, is a National Public Radio commentator, host of an NPR show called Seasonings. Anyway, back in 1970, she published a cookbook. And she was interviewed about it on television by Barbara Walters.

And as Verta tells this story, OK, she's on TV, making fried chicken for Barbara Walters. And at some point, Barbara Walters asks her, "How do you tell the chicken's done?"

And Verta tells her, "You can tell by the sound." Ms. Walters gives her this look which says, basically, "Give me a break," and quickly cuts to a commercial. And Verta says that's always people's reaction.

Vertamae Grosvenor

They say, "You're crazy, Verta. That's not it." They say, "Tell me something real. What is it? 15 minutes? 20 minutes," or whatever. And I say, "You've got to listen to the sound of the grease. Listen to the music."

Ira Glass

So you have been claiming for years that you can tell if the chicken's done purely by the sound. And so to determine if that's true, we've decided to conduct a little radio experiment here, with your permission. The other night, we fried a chicken, and we recorded it at different stages of its frying. And we are going to play you now four different moments in the frying of the chicken that we've changed the order of.

Vertamae Grosvenor

I'm sure you did, Ira.

Ira Glass

Well, I'm telling you up front. And we want you to listen to the four of them and identify which one is the one where the chicken is done. In other words, can you tell that the chicken is done without any visual cues, without the help of smelling what the chicken is smelling like? Can it be done purely, purely on the basis of sound?

Let's roll. And our listeners at home can play along with us here. Let's roll the first little sample sound.

[CHICKEN FRYING]

Vertamae Grosvenor

I would say--

Ira Glass

Yeah?

Vertamae Grosvenor

I'd say that's something like the middle.

Ira Glass

OK. But that definitely isn't towards the end, you're saying.

Vertamae Grosvenor

Yeah, it's in the middle going toward the end. It's in the three fourths part.

Ira Glass

OK, let's hear sound number two, please.

[CHICKEN FRYING]

Vertamae Grosvenor

Number two is toward the end, too.

Vertamae Grosvenor

OK. Number three.

[CHICKEN FRYING]

Vertamae Grosvenor

I think that's the beginning, more toward the beginning.

Ira Glass

That is more toward the beginning. And number four.

[CHICKEN FRYING]

Vertamae Grosvenor

That's an ender. It's toward the end.

Ira Glass

OK.

Vertamae Grosvenor

When all those little balls are forming on the bottom, those little, nice, crusty.

Ira Glass

Now, Verda, if you would have to hazard a guess as to which one would be the very last one--

Vertamae Grosvenor

I still say it's one or two that's toward the end.

Ira Glass

And the answer is number two, which means that using only the sound of the chicken, Ms. Vertamae Grosvenor can get close to telling when chicken is done, but can't be totally sure of it. In short, this was hard.

Vertamae Grosvenor

Yes, it was hard. You have to see it. Do you know what I mean?

Ira Glass

Yeah.

Vertamae Grosvenor

Oh, it's a serious, labor-intensive thing. You've got to stay on it. You just can't be talking on the phone and watching TV. You've got to stay on that chicken.

Ira Glass

I was asking your daughters today, and they were saying how they can also tell if rice is done by the sound.

Vertamae Grosvenor

Oh yeah, that's true. Yeah, I taught them that. Those are the kind of family values I taught my children. "Listen to the sound of the chicken."

[LAUGHTER]

Vertamae Grosvenor

"Listen to the sound of the rice." You talked to both of them?

Ira Glass

I talked to both of them. They were both really funny. One of them said, "Everything that she cooks is golden brown and perfect, perfect, perfect."

Vertamae Grosvenor

Who said that?

Ira Glass

I believe it was Chandra.

Vertamae Grosvenor

Really?

Ira Glass

But she said, "But just because we're her daughters, that doesn't mean that she tells us the real recipes. We ask her for the recipes, and tells us recipes. But then when we cook them, they're not the same. And we know that she's holding back on ingredients.

Vertamae Grosvenor

That's-- well, that's not quite true, but you know.

[LAUGHTER]

Ira Glass

That is true. You don't tell them all the ingredients.

Vertamae Grosvenor

Well, no. I just tell them, but then they have to find out the rest for themselves.

Ira Glass

There you go.

Vertamae Grosvenor

You see what I'm saying?

Ira Glass

As with so many things in parenting.

Vertamae Grosvenor

I say, "I put a little ginger in." Then they have to figure out how much a little ginger is. That's what they have to do.

Ira Glass

I tell you, going into this, I was completely convinced that you were just going to snap and get it, and it was going to be really easy. But it turned out to be hard without those other cues. And I guess I've learned that the chicken is a tricky thing. Chicken is tricky. Chicken is craftier than we usually give it credit for.

Vertamae Grosvenor

Oh, but did I tell you this one? I have something to tell you about chickens.

Ira Glass

All right, yeah.

Vertamae Grosvenor

The chicken and the rooster had a fight. The chicken knocked the rooster out of sight. Rooster told the chicken, "That's alright. Meet you in the gumbo tomorrow night."

Ira Glass

Well, the fabulous Vertamae Grosvenor from a studio in Washington, DC. More fun a-comin', writer David Sedaris in New York City. And of course, have we mentioned-- I can't remember. Did we mention the new Chickenman episode, the first one since 1969? Did we mention it? All right. Stay with us.

[MUSIC PLAYING - "EAT THAT CHICKEN" BY CHARLES MINGUS]

Act Five.

David Sedaris

July 19, 1992. This afternoon, at the 26th Street Flea Market, I had one of those experiences that remind me why I shop in the first place. Not shop like grocery shop, but step out into the world searching for that one thing I cannot name.

I pass the usual objects, the grinning mammies offering themselves up as salt and pepper shakers, the coffee table made from dice, another head carved from a coconut. "That's collectible," the dealers say, referring to an ashtray in the shape of a doll-sized toilet bowl. Collectible to who?

Last weekend at the flea market, I saw this thing, a taxidermied turkey's head attached to its own foot. This turkey was equipped with that length of flesh that spills from the top of its beak and fell to its neck. Stiff red hair stood out from the head and shoulders, and the claws were really sharp. You'd think that something armed like that might be able to protect itself.

I pictured its maker standing by a chopping block saying, "I know. I'll take the turkey's head and attach it to the foot." Why would you do that? Or more importantly, what sort of life would you lead that might enable you to make this connection?

I was hypnotized by this object and asked the price as if I were under a spell. "$45," the dealer said. My tongue was dry from hanging in the open air, and I tried to fit it back into my mouth. "All right," she said, "$35. $30." But she could have gone up. "All right. $85. $120. $370."

I had no choice but to follow wherever she led me. I handed over my wallet in a trance, just gave it to her, thinking she could take the whole thing, the cash, blank checks, library card, whatever. Take it all.

I stared into the face of this taxidermied turkey's head, and nothing else mattered. Tomorrow, what's that? Yesterday doesn't count. My life began the moment I could call this thing my own.

On the way home I felt giddy and confident that I could approach anyone at all and say, "I'll give you one hundred-- no, $500,000 if you can guess what I've got in this paper sack." And I swear that not one of them could have come up with the right answer. I walked home 30 blocks, looking everyone square in the eye and thinking, "Sucker."

Ira Glass

Well, David Sedaris is the author of Barrel Fever, often heard on NPR's Morning Edition.

Act Six.

Ira Glass

All right. Well, forget about those two new Beatles songs, so-called Beatles songs, put out two and a half decades after the group broke up, because here, here, right here on Your Radio Playhouse, we have chicken mania. Chickenman-ia All right, forget that.

Dick Orkin, the voice of Chickenman and the brains behind Chickenman. This is the style that launched 1,000 imitators. When I was a kid listening to the radio in Baltimore, I heard this stuff, and really, Chickenman, until the time I was 13 years old, and The Tooth Fairy, another series that Dick Orkin did. And then occasionally, you would hear these commercials for Time magazine or other stuff.

You could always tell. You could always tell. That's the guy. That's the guy. Those are [UNINTELLIGIBLE].

Because they all had this very deadpan feeling. There was just something offbeat. You couldn't even quite put your finger on what it was. And I, like many people who got into radio in the years that followed, spent the early part of my career in radio trying to imitate that sound and then giving up because of the utter futility of that.

And so we are very, very pleased. All of that is a way of saying we are very, very pleased. We, the corporate we, I and the little production staff here at Your Radio Playhouse, we are very pleased to be able to bring the first new Chickenman episode written since 1969, the first full episode written since 1969. You know, Chickenman is getting up in years. And no one appears to be more aware of that than his creator.

Chickenman Announcer

And now, another exciting episode in the life of the most fantastic crimefighter the world has ever known.

Chickenman

Bock bock bock bock!

Man 1

Chickenman!

Women

He's everywhere, he's everywhere!

["BOCK" ALARM NOISE]

Benton Harbor

Tuesday morning, 9:30 AM. The Chicken Alarm in my Chicken Cave goes off 30 minutes late, which makes me late for my annual physical at my doctor, DuPont Chopper. I didn't want to be late, since it was my first in 30 years. 9:50 AM. I get a flat as I pull the Chicken Coupe out of the Chicken Garage. So I take the convenient number 32 bus, which drops me off only 14 blocks from the doctor's office.

Dupont Chopper

You're late, you're late for a very important date.

Benton Harbor

--says the doctor. And I say, "I know. I'm sorry. All the air went out of my whatchmacallit."

Dupont Chopper

Well, that happens to all of us. Age.

Benton Harbor

11 AM. After several tests and poking and prodding--

Dupont Chopper

Well, your cholesterol is a little high. The pain in your toes is arthritis. And I think you have the beginning of a nice hernia.

Benton Harbor

Cholesterol high? I had no idea.

Dupont Chopper

Well, technically, it's not high, because one, it is in your mind. And two, it is your bad cholesterol that's bad. Your good cholesterol is not good. But in time, your bad cholesterol will be good, and your good cholesterol will be bad. And that's not good.

Benton Harbor

Anything else?

Dupont Chopper

Yes, you're ugly.

Benton Harbor

That's my Chicken Mask. The beak and, you know, the feathers.

Dupont Chopper

Uh-huh. Well, don't look at small children or animals. Anyway, that's the health story. But I don't think you have to alter your lifestyle, unless you are a crimefighting superhero of some kind.

[LAUGHTER]

Dupont Chopper

Want to buy one of my tapes?

Benton Harbor

12:00 noon. I return to the Chicken Cave. And there, in the chicken mirror-- augh!-- I see something horrible. No, not my ugly face, my own mortality. I ask myself why it never stared me in the face before. After all, I've been fighting crime and/or evil for over 30 years, pursuing it down streets and allies and sewers and other picturesque places. And my mortality never came up even once.

1:40 PM. I go see the police commissioner and share with him the doctor's diagnosis. After all, he is my closest friend. And if I can't tell him the bad news, who can I tell? So I give him a new coloring book I bought for him and tell him my sad news. And he says--

Police Commissioner

Ha, ha. This looks like a real neat coloring book.

Benton Harbor

So what do you think commissioner?

Police Commissioner

About what?

Benton Harbor

What I just shared with you.

Police Commissioner

Oh. It's a real neat coloring book.

Benton Harbor

About the diagnosis and the need to alter my lifestyle.

Police Commissioner

Oh. Well, that would mean that you'd have to-- and of course one can't even be sure that that, you know. So anyway, that's how I see it.

Dupont Chopper

OK. Thanks, commissioner.

Police Commissioner

Anytime, winged warrior. After all, what are friends for? And may I ask you a question?

Benton Harbor

OK.

Police Commissioner

If I make the sky blue in this picture and the mountains brown, do you think the rocks should be chartreuse?

Benton Harbor

Perfect.

4:00 PM. I go to the local office of the Grace Hill Ferguson Employment Agency and Screen Door Company.

Woman

OK, when you say something more sed-ren-tarry, what do you mean?

Benton Harbor

Sedentary. You know, things where I can seden-- sit.

Woman

Oh, OK. What kind of previous work experience do you have?

Benton Harbor

Basically fighting crime and/or evil.

Woman

And what special equipment, office or otherwise, are you experienced in using?

Benton Harbor

Geshtukna ray gun.

Woman

Could you spell that?

Benton Harbor

G-E-S-H-T-U-K-A-N-A. And I also worked a Chicken Dissolver and a Chicken Modulator and a can opener.

Woman

--T-U-K--

Benton Harbor

--A-N-A.

Woman

OK. Do you know Windows 95?

Benton Harbor

Look, what light job openings are on your list there? Just look.

Woman

Heavy cable puller, refrigerator and piano mover, cement hailer--

Benton Harbor

Hauler.

Woman

OK. Big tree planter! Circus tent--

Benton Harbor

Miss?

Woman

What?

Benton Harbor

Not holler. Those are all active and heavy things. Anything light I could do?

Woman

Yes, a negligee model in a delicatessen.

Benton Harbor

I don't--

Woman

Oh, well scratch that, then. Requires previous experience. Oh, here's something really perfect.

Benton Harbor

What's that?

Woman

A napkin-folder in a nouveau Italian-Chinese restaurant specializing in pizza and light salads. Takeout available. Mmm, I'm hungry.

Benton Harbor

Wednesday morning, 9:30 AM. My Chicken Alarm goes off a half hour late for my geriatric counseling appointment. Tire still flat. So I take the convenient number 18 bus. And that leaves me off only 28 blocks from the counselor's office.

Counselor

I have one word of advice, Mister. Get out.

Benton Harbor

Excuse me?

Counselor

Get out.

Benton Harbor

OK, I'm a few minutes late.

Counselor

What? You're 30 years too late. Get out.

Benton Harbor

Oh, you mean get out, not get out.

Counselor

May I suggest a small, desert, superhero retirement community.

Benton Harbor

Ooh.

Counselor

You play golf?

Benton Harbor

Not real good, no.

Counselor

Good, you'll fit right in. Neither does Fishwoman or that Flying Newt. I sent them there. They love it.

Benton Harbor

Fishwoman?

Counselor

Yeah. Little scaly, nice personality.

Benton Harbor

OK.

Counselor

Want to buy one of my tapes?

Benton Harbor

2:00 AM, next morning. I can't sleep, and I sip warm milk in the Chicken Cave. What to do? I'm on the horns of a dilemma. Heavy concrete hauler? Fold napkins in nouveau Italian-Chinese restaurant specializing in pizza and light salads? Or challenge the fates?

8:00 AM. I stand on the roof of Midland City's tallest skyscraper, four dizzy stories high. I hurl a challenge to the fates. This is the winged warrior, fates. I shall go on fighting crime and/or evil. I don't care that my bad cholesterol is bad, that--

Suddenly, a black cloud forms swiftly in the sky, and I hear--

Frank The Fate

OK, do what you want. We'll try to be there for you. But watch the fatty foods, the cookies, the ice cream, and good luck to you.

Benton Harbor

Who is that?

Frank The Fate

One of the fates.

Benton Harbor

Which one?

Frank The Fate

Frank. Phyllis, Fran and Fred are in Las Vegas. God bless them, they should only win and be well.

Benton Harbor

OK. Well, fine. I'll just carry on, then.

Frank The Fate

OK. Listen, could you change that mask you're wearing now? It's very ugly and could scare kids and small animals. Thank you very much.

Benton Harbor

Right.

And at that moment, I knew fate was blind, and I, the famous fowl, would have the last laugh. For you see, I wasn't wearing a mask.

[LAUGHTER]

Chickenman Announcer

Well, what has the winged warrior gotten himself into here? Can he actually stop time by challenging the fates? And is it Frank Fate he's talking to or Georgie Jessel? And another thing, doesn't that nouveau Italian-Chinese restaurant sound super-trendy? Be listening tomorrow for another exciting episode in the life of the most fantastic crimefighter the world has ever known.

Chickenman

Bock bock bock bock!

Man

Chickenman.

Women

He's everywhere, he's everywhere!

Ira Glass

Well, "Chickenman Challenges a Fate Named Frank" was recorded at Dick Orkin's radio ranch in Hollywood, California. Along with Dick Orkin, the cast included Charlie Brill, Allison Anne Martin, Miriam Flynn, and Jim Gallant. Engineers Elizabeth Lane and James Burns. Written by Dick Orkin and Christine Coyle. Ms. Flynn's hairstyle by Mr. Bunny.

[FUNDING CREDITS]

The show is produced by Dolores Wilber, Nancy Updike, Peter Clowney, Alix Spiegel and myself. Contributing editors Margi Rochlin, Paul Tough, and Jack Hitt. Many songs in tonight's program were provided by Mr. Steve Cushing and the Blues Before Sunrise Radio Network. Our program comes to you from WBEZ Chicago. Our address, 848 East Grand Avenue, Navy Pier, Chicago, 60611. Our email address, oh why don't you write us, radio@well.com. That's radio@well.com.

[ACKNOWLEDGMENTS]

And finally, thanks to the Mattoon family, Ashley, Lynn, Duki, Yona Lu, and of course, Danielle.

Danielle

I just want a real person who's like Duki, probably. I want to go marry some guy who's like Duki.

Ira Glass

And how's that search going?

Danielle

Not well.

Ira Glass

I'm Ira Glass. See you next week, same chicken time, same chicken channel. Same brave little radio station.

Danielle

Ira?

Ira Glass

Hmm?

Danielle

Don't make me sound like an idiot, OK?

Ira Glass

Done.