Friday, September 23, 2016
Well, it finally happened. 12 years and 595 weekly columns... and I've FINALLY managed to make a whole ton of enemies in a REALLY short time. I've gotta hand it to the pro-backyard chicken folks in town -- they're definitely a passionate bunch. No sooner had this column made its way to our newspaper's website than someone upped it to a local pro-chicken message board and all hell broke loose. It turns out people who dig chickens do NOT dig being poked fun at. They're probably too busy being poked by their chickens.
Over the past 24 hours, I've receives dozens of pieces of hate mail (along with a few letters of support), a few threats, and I came home today to discover someone had egged my back door and covered my back steps in chicken poop. Thanks, by the way, for proof positive that chicken poop DOES, in fact, stink.
Let me use my blog to state some facts that I thought were self-evident and answer some of my favorite pieces of reader mail:
"You write articles to 'get LOLs' and not to educate and inform the public."
Yes. That's exactly what I get paid to do. In my job. As a humor columnist.
"Is this what the news has become?"
No. It is what a humor columnist is and continues to be.
"Whatever happened to: 'Who? What? When? Where? Why?'"
I wouldn't know. Perhaps ask a journalist. I am not one.
"There are no accurate facts in this article."
The only fact I presume to make in this column is that I don't like urban chickens. That's an accurate fact.
"Maybe he should go watch more Game of Thrones."
God, I wish. This wait for the new season is killing me.
"Is your column supposed to be located on the funny pages, cause it's where it's seems headed."
Yes. It is.
"Maybe you need to post on Facebook and other sites to get 5 min of questions answered before you form and share your baseless comments swaying people who are depending on you for there information. Obviously we know who not to trust next time."
If you are depending on a viewpoint humor column for information, you're reeeally going to be sorely disappointed. And please don't ever trust me now or ever. I'm just a humor columnist.
"Did you do any research before vomiting out your biased and inaccurate article?"
No, I did not do any research before vomiting out my biased and inaccurate humor column.
"Did you read any details whatsoever about the reasoning behind the fight for backyard hens in Rock Island?"
"Did you bother to check with neighboring communities and cities across the country who allow backyard hens?"
"Did you actually pay for a degree in journalism?"
Nope. Don't have one. Don't want one. NOT a journalist.
"Are you aware that research generally goes hand in hand with journalism?"
Yes. Are YOU aware that I'm NOT a journalist?
"This was purely a conjecture piece. With the lack of facts and overwhelming opinions it seemed more worthy of a letter to the editor or at best a Facebook post."
Or perhaps a humor column.
"This is not a news article."
FINALLY. Someone who gets it.
Are you guys sensing a theme here? Chicken people take things WAY too seriously.
Mixed in with all the hate mail were a few messages from other people who share some of my fears, grounded or no. Look, I'm no expert in chickenry. But I really DID grow up in the country, I've seen the worst and smelliest of rural farming, and I'm in no hurry to experience its tamer urban equivalent. You might think fresh eggs are worth it. I don't. I'm fine with the eggs I get at Hy-Vee, and if I feel like going organic, I go to the farmer's market. Both are within five minutes of my house.
Of COURSE there are people out there who have immaculate chicken coops in their back yard, take really good care of their chickens, and are generally awesome. I have no beef with them. This column isn't about them. But once urban chicken-keeping becomes the rage, the trend will make its way to idiots who WON'T take care of their chickens... and then it'll be up to the city to weed out those bad elements. There's a pit bull in an alley by my house that lives in deplorable conditions. I know for a fact that at least 3 people have reported that dog's owners and condition to the authorities. So far, they've done NOTHING. Forgive me if I don't put much faith in Rock Island's ability to police the chicken licenses they hand out.
And chickens really ARE mean. At least the ones I've met.
I'm not beyond admitting when I need to learn about stuff, and there's chicken-keepers out there eager to share their stories with me. I might take a couple of them up on it, so stay tuned. I don't just go around hating things without reason. Except Tom Cruise. F*** that guy.
UPDATE: 9/26/16 - It turns out the entire Quad Cities does NOT support backyard chickens and/or want to string me from the rafters. Now that the column ran in print today, I've been steadily receiving messages of support from lots of other residents who, like me, aren't especially keen on urban poultry. While I always suspected this to be the case, it's reassuring to know that not EVERYONE hates me. Only, like, a portion of the Quad Cities hates me. Still, I think that's better than Donald Trump's faring, so I'm good with it.
In the meantime, here's the column -- which was meant to be a good-natured jab at the hipster massive chicken coalition in town -- that started all the hubbub. This is the original unedited version I submitted, so forgive any typos or run-on sentences or what have you. You'll probably be too busy hating me to notice them anyways.
Oh, this column is NOT going to end well.
In the past, when I've suffered through an especially boring week that's left me mentally muddy and bereft of any good column topics, I've occasionally turned to my friends for advice. I've even posted on Facebook once or twice going, "Hey, anybody have any good ideas for a newspaper column?" In the few times I've tried this, I've usually been greeted by the sound of crickets, question marks, or topic suggestions so indecent I'd be hitting the unemployment line by the end of this sentence.
But a weird thing just happened. Without any prompting from me whatsoever, no fewer than four of my friends have hit me up this week on Facebook saying, "Dude, you HAVE to write a column about this." When so many people I care about come at me so passionately, I've GOT to take them up on it, right?
The problem is, I don't think they're gonna like what I have to say about it.
By and large, a vast majority of my friends are, if you'll allow me to crudely stereotype, artsy-fartsy types. The easiest way to make friends is to find people with shared interests, and my interests have never been especially practical. I don't know too many bankers or businessmen. Instead, my friends tend to be actors and artists, hippies and hipsters, vegans and vagabonds. And if there's one thing that unites this motley crew of miscreants, it's, umm, apparantly now a shared desire to murder chickens.
Until this week, I would've told you with absolute certainty that I didn't know anyone who harbored a secret desire to raise backyard chickens for eggs or meat. But then last week some news stories popped up about many of our local communities, including my own Rock Island, reconsidering their long-standing bans on keeping chickens within city limits. Before I knew it, it was the prime trending topic amongst my friends on social media. For a while, it was kind of refreshing. I'd certainly rather watch people bicker about poultry over politics. But now poultry has BECOME politics. My inbox is full of petition requests: SIGN NOW TO SUPPORT BACKYARD CHICKENS IN ROCK ISLAND!
I get it, I do. Keeping your own chickens is just the next evolutionary step in urban farming. It's steampunk, it's sustainable living, it's organic. In one fowl swoop, you're damning the man, living off the grid, making a difference, saving money, and treating dinner with dignity. It's the perfect hobby for the eco-friendly artsy hipster in all of us.
There's just one problem... I don't want backyard chickens in my neighborhood. And now I'm probably gonna lose my membership card to the Cool Kid's Club. Great.
I like chickens just fine. I like them plucked, skinned, deboned, covered in Saran Wrap, and potentially even shaked and baked -- anything it takes for them to end up on my plate looking as little like the murdered remains of once-cute birds as possible. I'm all for animal rights, and I shiver when I see one of those shameful undercover videos of livestock mistreatment at mega-farms. I'd make a decent vegetarian if chicken wasn't delicious and tofu didn't taste like gelatinous plastic. I deal with my carniverous shame the best I can: by stubbornly turning a blind eye to the more slaughterous aspects of meat-eating.
I grew up in the country, and if I wanted to hang out with poultry, I'd still be out there. There are advantages to city life, and one of them is the ability to go about my day-to-day existence without bearing daily witness to the circle of life. I know what you're gonna say: "Backyard coops are for eggs, not murder!" Fair enough, but let's be honest -- once hens are past their egg-bearing years, they're not put out to pasture as much as put on dinner plates.
If one of my neighbors suddenly set up a chicken coop, I know exactly how it'd play out. Within minutes, I'd be the one going "Aww! Wookit da cute chickins!" It wouldn't take long before I'd feel guilty even looking sideways at a Chik-Fil-A. I eat too much red meat already, people. If I were to develop an affinity for chickens and paired that with my natural aversion to vegetables, all that's left would be an all-burger diet and early death. Congratulations, your backyard chickens just killed me.
Plus, chicken coops stink. That's fact. "But Shane," you say, "my great-aunt Mildred raised chickens all her life and her backyard always smelled springtime fresh!" That's because your great-aunt Mildred probably knew what she was doing. You don't. She raised chickens all her life. You watch "Game of Thrones" and wear ironic t-shirts. The day you decide you'd rather visit a microbrewery than tend to your brood, you're gonna have a funky coop in no time. My hay fever already ensures that I spend half the year in a snot-nosed, Claritin-popping stupor. I'm sure adding feathers and feed dust to the air will just do wonders in that department.
If we green-light urban chickens, please please please at least ban roosters like most other towns. I'm fine with some random clucking. But the minute some wayward rooster starts crowing at 5 a.m., it might be MY turn to try my hand at poultrycide. Sorry, Professor Plum, it was the sleep-deprived neighbor, in the chicken coop, with the candlestick.
I can't speak for everyone's neck of the woods, but on MY block, any potential chicken populace would already be outnumbered by the legions of feral cats and raccoons that roam the streets. You could step out for eggs one morning and instead find yourself in the grisly aftermath of a full-scale poultrycaust. That's no way for Little Timmy to learn about the food cycle.
Besides, chickens are kinda mean. In my limited dealings with them, they're not quite as keen on sacrificing their offspring to us as we'd like them to be. Those beaks are sharp, people. Plant a garden instead. Tomatoes don't poop, cluck, or peck you in the ankles. If you've really got your heart set on fostering some chickens, do it out in the sticks where I can continue to live in ignorant bliss of the sights, smells, and noise of modern chickenry.
Sorry, friends, that I was too chicken to tell you how much I loathe chickens. You wanted me to write about it? Ta-da. Mission accomplished. (Curtsy). See, I told you this column wasn't going to end well.