I have just returned from the home of my neighbor carrying The Unavoidable Gift — this time, a chicken refrigerator magnet — from her vacation in Kauai, which is practically owned by free-range chickens.
Her travels, however, are largely irrelevant, because this is approximately the 164th poultry tchotchke with which my neighbor has favored me since I started keeping a backyard flock 18 years ago. Shortly thereafter, chickens became the theme by which people who don’t really know me but like me (the former perhaps explaining the latter) select gifts I never need and, as years of accumulation ooze into decades, pointedly do not want.
My neighbor, in particular, is unstoppable. Over the years she has gifted me with needlepoint chickens, ceramic chickens, chicken potholders and dish towels, metal chicken art for yard and living room, chicken tote bags, handcrafted chickens from exotic destinations and mass-manufactured chickens from the local dollar store.
I am kvetching about this at the certain risk of appearing ungracious, having apparently been pulling the wings off butterflies when graciousness was being handed out in the mysterious anteland where we dwell, disembodied, before taking form in order to complicate each other’s lives.
Additionally, I bear some responsibility for my neighbor’s fixation, being stupidly charmed nearly two decades ago when raising my first chicks, who of course were downy and defenseless and deeply cute in the way of all baby things, who God makes that way because he knows humans are shallow and would let ugly things die.
To be clear, hens are, objectively, fabulous: beautiful and industrious and comical and affectionate. And way smarter than most people give them credit for, about which I have previously written. Even roosters are appealing in their singular way: spectacular looking, often vainglorious, occasionally goofy and sometimes useful as flock protectors. (As a bonus, they lack penises, a trait that — in light of current human events — one might reasonably wish applied as well to our species.)
Anyway, when I started keeping hens, I spent almost as much time on eBay as in the coop, collecting chicken ephemera, small antique glass nesting hens, retro egg cartons and such. And, I’m sure, bored my most patient friends to tears by going on ad nauseam about chicken loveliness, which I observed and reported with the keen and open-hearted interest of a new paramour.
But this was 18 years ago. Eighteen years. And still my neighbor persists, like the aunt who gave me Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories by Dr. Seuss the Christmas I was 13, having failed to notice I was no longer 5.
Maybe you recognize this phenomenon. Perhaps you, too, have an interest that at some long-ago time bordered on obsession and, in that time, fixed itself as a pole star in the minds of people who henceforth persisted in giving you tokens of their affection along a single, unbroken theme that will neither end nor countenance variation. Maybe your gentle hints to desist (I’m trying to get rid of clutter. My cats have developed a fear of chicken tchotchkes. I’m planning to move to Romania to escape you.) have fallen on deaf ears.
Maybe you’ve had this experience, and because you’re nicer than I am, this is what you’re inwardly saying to me: What is wrong with you? Obviously, you knob, your neighbor cares for you and is expressing her affection in a way she hopes will please you. Is it too much to ask of Your Buttholiness to quit carping and keep feigning appreciation before again sneaking off to Goodwill to offload the latest gift?
And of course you’re right. Further, I thank you for putting the “social” in social media. We all need friends who’ll set us straight when we’re behaving badly, no less than we need friends whose foundational gift — their kind regard — is always worth keeping, even if its current expression ends up at the thrift store.
Although, actually, who can’t use an extra refrigerator magnet? The Kauai lettering and chicken outline are appealingly rustic, and the wood grain is downright pretty. In fact, as I consider it, the magnet nicely complements the wicker basket with the hen-shaped lid ….