by Bruce H. Mero
Turning forty can be traumatic for some people and for friend Jerry, the prospect of reaching the four decade mark was particularly troubling. Perhaps it was the realization that he was now statistically middle aged that was bothersome, or perhaps it was the “over-the-hill” comments his co-workers snickered in just-loud-enough-to-hear voices that was getting to him. I suspect it may have been both reasons to some degree, however, my money was on the fact that Jerry had lampooned his girlfriend, Cynthia, on her fortieth, and he was scared to death of what she had planned for him. She had been threatening him with terrible things since the billboard on Route 12 at Alder Creek announced to all who passed it, that Cynthia was now forty but still a great lover. He thought it humorous, she did not and swore revenge. Naturally, we intended to take advantage of the trepidation growing in our friend as his birthday neared and harassed him without mercy. Jerry expected the worst.
Jerry was a blue-jean bedecked, professional photographer for the Air Force, a hippie carry- over from the 60s. He was also a gentleman farmer, gone mad. His hobby was raising farm animals and his place was a menagerie of hundreds of free-ranging chickens, ducks, turkeys, geese and guinea hens, dozens of rabbits, several pigs, goats, sheep, cows and a horse. His farm was awash in animals and "Farmer Jerry" was quite the sight.
The build-up to his fortieth was great fun for everyone but Jerry. The gift that Cynthia finally decided upon was a quarter page caricature of Jerry which published several days before his birthday in the base newspaper. The cartoon showed our scruffy friend looking into his Nikon and a chicken standing on the lens looking back at him. We all shared a laugh when the paper came out and, while a bit embarrassed, Jerry sighed relief that he had apparently gotten off as easily as he had for his birthday.
At the same time in our chicken coop, we discovered a chicken that had taken to eating eggs and rather than dispatch her as would be the norm, we decided to pass her on to Jerry for rehabilitation. We had taken misfits to him before. On the day of his birthday, I placed the egg sucker into a large box and taped it shut with duct tape and on the box, in magic marker, wrote BIRTHDAY SURPRISE. The chicken went off with me to work in the back seat of my car and there she stayed all morning. I became involved with the activities of the day and completely forgot about the boxed bird. It was during Staff Meeting in the afternoon, that my memory returned and I woke with a jolt. The Chicken! While Col. Harvey (his meetings were a series of sermons, so to his staff he was known as 'Reverend Harvey') droned on, I frantically thought about what to do. These meetings typically could go on for hours and it looked like the Reverend was on a roll. Who knows when he’d be done. I excused myself for a comfort break and dashed out of the building and to my car. A shake of the box and I could tell that Jerry’s present was still alive. In a split second I decided to run the bird to the building that housed the Photo Lab. There, upon my arrival, I found the place empty. Everyone was off on assignment. I let myself in and put the box in Jerry's office and left. No one had seen me come or go. In very few minutes, I was back in my seat in staff meeting. Harvey was still preaching. Half-closed eyelids around the room indicated to me that few had seen me leave and no one had any idea of how long I’d been away, nor cared.
Jerry returned to the Photo Lab shortly after my departure and, of course found the box in his office. For reasons he later could not explain, he carried the box into his boss’s office across the hall to see if he knew anything about it. Maddog Joe (the Photo staff’s not-so-affectionate name for their boss) pushed Jerry aside, pealed the duct tape away and opened the box. The frightened chicken leaped into the air with a screech and in a rush of dust and feathers, flew passed Maddog and alighted upon the top of a bookshelf against the wall. During flight, the chicken evacuated its bowels and a greenish streak of chicken poop followed the flight path and landed in a neat line of splats on Maddog’s forehead, the wall next to the bookshelf and on several rows of books.
It was less than a minute before Jerry's boss was screaming into the phone, demanding that my secretary immediately put me on the line. He knew instantly who was responsible for the mess in his office and he wanted my head. My secretary responded that she would have me return his call once I was finished with Staff Meeting, that I had been in there for over an hour and a half and should be available any minute. Reverend Harvey was my cover. I had a alibi and needed it, apparently.
Maddog never did figure out how I was able to deliver my Birthday gift to Jerry. Col. Harvey insisted that all of his staff was present at Staff Meeting, including me. Joe just knew that I was guilty. He had chicken poop in places that no chicken poop should ever be and he held me responsible. Jerry knew also that I was responsible, but he also figured that Cynthia was a co-conspirator and that the cartoon in the base newspaper was just a ruse. In spite of her protestations of innocence, his birthday gift to her had been revenged and Jerry’s worst fears realized.
The egg sucking hen settled into Jerry's menagerie without further miscue.