The door opened and a tough-looking rooster was tossed in. It slammed shut before he could escape, but he spun around and pecked at it anyway as footsteps receded down the hallway. Then he turned to face the crowd of birds inside the brightly-lit holding cell.
“What are you lookin’ at?” he crowed. Then he strutted over to a side wall and took a roost, chewing on a piece of straw. A tattoo on his breast said, “Death Before Dishonor.”
A sincere-looking rooster with a tattered comb edged over and roosted beside him. Acting nonchalant, he struck up a conversation.
“So, uh, what’re you in for?”
“None of your beeswax, bird-brain! Leave me alone.”
“Hey!” the peacemaker said, his voice rising. “Keep talkin’ like that and you won’t last the day. Believe me, you don’t want to ruffle any feathers in this place.”
His voice lowered again. “I can help you, y’know? It won’t happen overnight, but it’s a process. It’ll get better if you give it a chance.”
“Why I oughtta…” the newcomer said, lifting his talons, then acting surprised when he saw there were no blades attached. Suddenly, he burst into tears.
“I don’t want to be here! I want to be back out there, fighting like I was born to do, hearing the crowd, smelling the nachos and beer!”
His eyes took on a crazed look as he furtively glanced around. “If you want to help me, help me get out of here. There has to be an opening I can squeeze through!”
“No, buddy. There’s no escape until you’re rehabilitated.”
“Whaddaya mean rehabilitated? Is that like being brainwashed? Are they doing lobotomies all up in here? Slipping us a mickey? What kind of sick, twisted place is this?”
“Hey, don’t lay an egg. This isn’t hell – you just escaped from hell. This is rehab and hope for life after the fight game.”
“Life after? How can there be life after?”
“Listen to me! You weren’t born to fight. You were born to strut and peck and meet chicks. You were made to rule the roost! Sure, that might have involved an occasional squabble with a fox, or a cocky young guy who gets too big for his drumsticks. But all that fighting, the blood, the crowds, the gambling – that’s not what life is about!”
“It’s (gulp!) not?”
“No! You were being exploited. You were the athlete, the star, but it was your ‘owner’ who was getting all the money, the fame, the endorsement deals. He was using you, and you were getting what? Chickenfeed!”
“Oh, yeah! But he got busted. Sure, it’s only a small fine and misdemeanor charges, but the big penalty for him is, the cops took you! Now you’re in rehab and once you calm down, they’re going to ship you off to a good home where you can live in peace. Heck, you might even be free-range!”
“Yeah, baby. That’s the life! Crow at the sunrise every morning, then just scratch around all day. No foxes, no coyotes and no responsibilities.”
“Why would somebody set me up like that?”
“For some reason, they want you to be worry-free. All I’ve heard is that you develop good taste when you’re not cooped up all the time.”
“Yeah, like, I dunno – listening to Mozart or strutting through museums or something. I’m not really clear on all that – but it’s got to beat going to Oklahoma and fighting every weekend.”
“Unless what they really want is … chickens that TASTE GOOD!”
“What? That’s cra – wait a minute. You could be right. I did hear them say something about Tyson. I thought they meant that boxer who doesn’t box anymore had gone into counseling, trying to help birds overcome it the way he did. But there is another Tyson…”
“Rehab-schmeehab! They want us to stop worrying and start eating so we’ll be nice and plump for Sunday dinner! We gotta get out of here!”
“Now you’re clucking! Next time that door opens, let’s fly the coop. We can free-range on our own terms!”
Bob Buckel is executive editor of the Messenger.