When I was twelve, my friends and I found a chicken in the bushes in Queens. For those of you who already know this story, there is a dramatic revelation ahead. For those of you who don’t, you’re in for a real treat.
But first, a stunning acknowledgement. Thomas Wolfe was wrong. You can go home again.
What, you may ask, do Thomas Wolfe and a wayward Queens chicken have in common? Be patient, dear reader, I’m getting to it.
My friends and I found the chicken in the bushes as we were coming home from the park. Keep in mind that this was 1977. There were no backyard chicken coops in Queens for the homesteading New Yorkers who wanted fresh eggs to go with their morning organic wheatgrass juice and kombucha colon cleanse. We might as well have found a live alpaca, or a Martian. How on earth did that chicken get there? Your guess is as good as mine. We didn’t ask the poor thing too many questions. The first thing we did was to take it to my house. There was no way we were going to leave this defenseless chicken in the bushes like that. I, for one, am a lover of all living things, except when I want to eat them. In this case, it seemed like the kind thing to do to take the chicken home and care for it.
The second thing I did was to call the New York Post and tell them to send a photographer.
Which they did.
I have been telling this story for years, but I have never been able to produce any evidence of the event. I am happy to report that I have been telling the truth, and I shall now habeas clipum:
You might be unsurprised to learn that twenty years after this auspicious debut as a self-promoting flack I would be a press secretary on Capitol Hill.
(The sidebar to this story is that the chicken spent the winter in our garage in Queens. We neglected to tell the photographer that we were looking for a good home for the poor creature, and he added a line of total hooey to the caption about how we took the chicken to the police, who called the ASPCA. The New York Post, by that time, had abandoned all journalistic tendencies. They’ve gone downhill since then.)
I’ve often thought of that chicken, and the guys who I grew up with, (although not necessarily in that order). I moved out of the neighborhood when I was seventeen and eventually lost touch with the gang (as well as with our ringleader, my childhood best friend Sam). Most of us were reunited here last month at a surprise birthday party for Sam, but I didn’t want to lose the momentum, so we organized a dinner last weekend with the guys in the photo, from L to R: Neal Sanders, Steve Klein, Rick Del Favero, me, and Bryan Sanders (Neal’s twin).
Our hairlines and waistlines have changed, but not much else.
I hadn’t seen these guys in almost thirty years, but if it wasn’t like we had seen each other yesterday, then it was possibly the day before. We settled into the kind of comfortable evening with old friends that everyone hopes for. Someone remarked that our childhood was a lot like a Little Rascals movie – we wandered the neighborhood in a tight little scrum playing sports, trading baseball cards, riding bikes, launching rockets, building go carts, and getting ourselves in and out of various scrapes.
We’d leave the house in the morning and return home at dark. Somehow we got ourselves fed and we managed to avoid being hit by moving cars. (I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the time Bryan tossed a match into an empty gasoline can, with predictable results. Luckily, he walked away with some singed eyebrows and some funny looking bangs, but he was otherwise unscathed.) I don’t know if it was really a more innocent time then. In fact, New York was something of a hell hole in the 70’s, having reached its modern low point on practically every social measure. And yet we roamed free, for good or ill. Nevertheless, we survived the era more or less intact, Bryan’s encounter with the gas can notwithstanding.
Needless to say, our reunion was filled with stories like our experience with the little farm animal. The guys hadn’t forgotten. I had searched for years for my copy of the Post story and was delighted to hear that Neal, Bryan, Rick, and Steve all still had copies of the newspaper. I had long since lost mine, which was too bad, since I tell the chicken story at all professional gatherings to illustrate how I was good at tactics (getting us in the paper), but not yet so good at strategy (finding a good home for the chicken). It was clearly a formative experience for us all.
When the evening was over, I was really happy that we had finally gotten the band back together, but sorry that it had taken so long. I have had no shortage of opportunities to reunite with the gang, but for some reason I never went to the trouble. I’m not exactly sure why, but it’s unimportant now. I came from a funny little village called Queens in which I spent thousands of hours of my very formative years with a bunch of guys with enormous hearts who know more about me (and I about them) than almost anyone else. That shared experience, as I came to realize this weekend, means a lot. The good news is that you can go home again, and then some.
And so, ladies and gentlemen, I hereby issue a challenge to the lot of you. Look somebody up whom you’ve been dying to reconnect with. I promise that you’ll be glad you did.