By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
By Dennis Romero
For solace, and refuge, I’d sit with the chickens, sometimes in an old chair that I‘d brought for the occasion, sometimes for an hour or two, frozen like a statue. Sometimes it was just to gaze at the behavior of the day-old chicks lounging in fresh sawdust under a suspended gas heat lamp. The birds made little contact with me in their infancy; they confined themselves to the area of the heat. But as they feathered out, and chirping turned to clucking, Joe raised the lamp via a pulley, and the chickens ventured into an expanded terrain. I trained myself to sit in the chair, moving nothing but my eyes, and the chickens would approach, torn between apprehension and curiosity. One would peck at my shoelace, then another would imitate, until the first would take the brave jump to my knee, realize what it had done and run away. Then all would flee, stepping on each other, squawking in a farce staged by instinct until, following some leader, they would re-approach, this army of the doomed. They really couldn’t help themselves, being so inquisitive by nature. One on my knee, then two, one on my shoulder. At the end of an hour, I was covered in chickens, absolutely enchanted.
In the middle of Los Angeles, almost 40 years later, it all comes rushing back, triggered by the smell of chicken manure on my fingers. Even after washing my hands, I know I have been infected -- a kind of lunacy is now gnawing, growing, and there is nothing I can do to stop it.
When I see “fertile eggs” at the Mayfair Market, I immediately buy half a dozen, along with some sponges, a 25-watt bulb and a thermometer. I retrieve a shoebox from a closet. Yes, I am going to build an incubator in order to hatch my very own chickens.
“And what are you going to do with them after they hatch?” ask friends, colleagues and my perplexed wife. “Are we going to turn the apartment into a chicken farm? What about the furniture?”
These are foolish questions to ask anyone who is living in the moment.
After prodigious research on the conditions needed to hatch chickens, through Google.com and About.com, I place a quartet of eggs into my shoebox incubator. The temperature must remain stable at 100 degrees, but in my shoebox the temperature wobbles lethally, dropping at night to a frigid 90 degrees. I make a tiny adjustment, moving the eggs millimeters closer to the light bulb. The thermometer shoots up to 110, meaning that I have just cooked the little ones -- presuming there are little ones to cook. After repeated attempts over two a and a half weeks, I realize that the shoebox isn‘t working. I order a $20 incubator online and head back to the Mayfair. Still no luck. I go through 24 eggs over 10 weeks with no success.
Then, one morning at the Hollywood Farmers Market, I meet Ken, a gentle, bearded fellow with a slight potbelly held in by an apron. Ken operates two stalls, one for knife sharpening and the other for eggs. One bin is marked “fertile eggs.” I say that I’d like some of his eggs and tell him of my plight.
“You can‘t use these eggs to hatch,” Ken explains. “And for sure, not from the grocery store. They’re bumped around too much.” Then he rolls two eggs into each other so that they tap, ever so lightly. “See that? If there‘s an embryo in there, it’s all over. They have to be held reeaaal delicate. You want hatching eggs, come up to my farm.”
He gives me a business card with the address of his farm, a mere 20 minutes away in semirural Van Nuys. I drive out there with my teenage stepdaughter, Sasha, to a large one-story stucco house, a chained fence across the driveway, and a dusty front yard with kids and dogs playing in a mound of dirt. There is no way in but to hop the wall, and I‘m not about to do that. As he later told me, Ken has barricaded his property after being raided by the LAPD, the Department of Building and Safety, and the Health Department after a neighbor’s complaint about his 3,000 critters -- chickens, rheas, goats, pigeons -- and the buses that he collects and stores on his property. The expression he uses most frequently is “violating your civil rights.”
The centuries-old American confrontation between the country and the city has now been replaced by equally hostile feelings between the country and the suburbs. It‘s always about neighbors. The farm and the city are now at a more exotic distance from each other, separated by the ’burbs, allowing for a greater measure of appreciation than when they rubbed up against each other -- in geography as well as in attitude. Raising chickens in the suburbs is considered deranged, whereas raising chickens in the city is merely eccentric -- that‘s the difference.
Ken sees me and comes out with an egg carton. Six eggs, six bucks. “What breed are they?” I ask. “No idea,” he says. “Mutts . . . Anything could come out of these.”