So I have a book coming out in September from a publisher in Mississippi whose covers I don’t particularly like. So in my contract, I stipulated that I had the right to design my own.
Long story short, Mary, who’s my graphic designer and an old friend, had a great idea for a cover. Since the title of the book is, I’m Not From the South But I Got Down Here As Fast As I Can—How a Connecticut Yankee learned to love grits and fried green tomatoes and lived to tell about it, she imagined kind of a Green Acres cover, Tony in a suit holding a pitchfork with a stalk of hay dangling out of his mouth, would be perfect, she told me.
I agreed, she hired a photographer and we set a date. As the day approached, Mary called with some ideas. She’d been talking to the photog and learned she had a couple chickens.
“So what do you think of the idea of you standing there in your suit holding a chicken?”
“As well as the pitchfork?”
“We’ll shoot it both ways,” she said.
“I don’t know, I have kind of a thing about birds.”
“You really want to know?”
“Okay, when I was little, I lived on this big farm and someone decided that Tony should go down with TeeDee, the Albanian gardener, and feed the chickens every morning. Problem was, these were Rhode Island Reds. If you’ve ever seen one, you know they are big suckers. If chickens played basketball, they would be centers.
Now I’m two, a short two, so these chickens towered above me. I was the small forward on a court packed with centers and when they dashed to and fro after the feed TeeDee kept throwing around the yard, they swept me along with them, a sea or Rhode Island Reds carrying me back and forth across the chicken pen.
Now I was terrified but TeeDee thought it was terrifically funny and kept cackling through the few teeth he had left like he was watching the clown show at the circus. I was making his day and me, all I was making was a load in my pants.
“Every time you take him down to feed the chickens,” my grandmother asked one day, “Tony poops his pants. Maybe he doesn’t like it?”
“Oh no, Ma’am, kid like so much, why kid makes poop.”
By this time, Mary was howling. “I can’t believe this!”
“So I have this thing about chickens.”
“I can see why. So did he keep taking you down to the chicken coop?”
“Every damn morning, I think it was the highlight of his day. I wish I could remember what he kept saying in Albanian. It was sort of, “Ooobeshousta megova oobeshousta megova” or something like that. Must have meant, “Holy shit, is this funny or what?”
“I’m surprised you’re not permanently scarred.”
“There are a few. Every time I crack an egg, I’m afraid a dead chick will drop out.”
“But that’s more into the bird thing.”
“The bird thing?”
“Yup, dead birds, I can’t stand them, as a matter of fact, can’t stand them dead or alive. Hitchcock didn’t help either—The Birds? I still get nightmares. Every time one gets stuck in the garage, I have to get Annie to get it out. They scare the crap out of me. Except for hummingbirds, I can do them. They’re like big bugs so I’m okay with them. And Annie can’t stand bugs, spiders, wasps. So Tony does the bugs and Annie does the birds.”
“Maybe that’s why you’ve been married so long?”
“Part of it, that and mayonnaise.”
“Neither of us can stand the stuff. So we try to avoid summer picnics. They put mayo on everything. When we do go, we always come away hungry, or bloated from eating too much watermelon.”
“So let’s get back to the chicken.”
“Do we have to?”
“What if the chicken just stands on the suitcase next to you?’
“That I can do, as long as I don’t have to touch it.”
Anyway, when I checked the photo concept out with the publisher, he went for the idea but nixed the chicken.
I guess that’s what you call a dead bird.