by Tom Chartier by Tom Chartier
Emblazoned across the front page of the local newspaper The Cayman Compass was the biggest news of the year to date. “Department of Agriculture Considers Placing Bounty on Chickens”!
It was about time! It felt good!
Grand Cayman Island has a Chicken Crisis. Wild chickens run loose, everywhere. We have chickens up the wazoo. I hate them. They must all die! I am not alone in my quest for a Chicken Free Cayman. Unfortunately there are many misguided souls who, and I shudder at the thought, actually like the chickens.
Nevertheless, I wanted those chickens purged, exterminated, sent to the rotisserie, or, to put it in more politically correct terms, I wanted to liberate them!
Chickens! Horse feathers! The insurgent buggers terrorize the neighborhood with their “cock-a-doodle-dos” at all hours of the night. Not only are they loud but also they are repetitive. I’ve timed them. They go off every ten to fifteen seconds. That’s just long enough to start to drift off again and then be reawakened, over and over and over again for the rest of the night. Does this happen all the time? You betcha! And it ain’t quaint after several nights let alone several months. Now I’ve been a musician for twenty-six years. I DO NOT get up at 3:00 AM. For me 3:00 AM only exists if I stay up for it. If I go to sleep it never happens. It’s a law of physics. What with these Lone Free Rangers disrupting Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity every night I was becoming sleep depraved. I began to hallucinate or at least understand chicken lingo. “Cock-a-doodle-do” translated into “No sleep for you”! Those chickens present a demented form of terrorism and must be stopped at any cost!
So where do these foul scallywags come from? Everywhere. The fact is, raising chickens and letting them run loose in your yard is a Caymanian tradition. Yard Fowl they call them. The tradition dates back to the days when pirates used the island as a hide-out. Let loose a bunch of chickens, they’ll prosper and multiply so that a pirate always had food whenever he returned. It makes sense if you have an eye patch, a peg leg, a parrot on your shoulder and it’s the 16th or 17th century. But today? The pirates all wear suits and sit in Congress. They’re eating Rock Cornish Games Hens now, not Yard Fowl. Anyway, we have supermarkets. Some of our chickens are even inside them, wrapped in plastic. But not enough for my liking.
A Chinese restaurant near my house, the Dragon, is heavily into the tradition of Yard Fowl. Chickens in the hundreds roam loose behind it and on the streets. Now I had them! I could run them down with my Suzuki Maruti jeep! I’d only be doing the restaurant a favor. They could add Suzuki Chicken to the menu, yum yum! I even ordered a supply of chicken stickers to place on the side of my cockpit for every kill I scored. I was going be an ace! However, it wasn’t as simple as it sounded. Sure, sure chickens have a brain the size of a pea and can’t fly. Trouble is, they can fly. They can soar to a staggering, nose bleeding altitude of fifteen feet! You would think the lack of oxygen that high would cause their feeble brains to shut down but sadly it doesn’t seem to make a difference. As hard as I tried I could not score a single kill. Suzuki Chicken was not to be on the Dragon’s menu.
However, war had been declared. With the Department of Agriculture’s announcement, Operation Chicken Freedom was launched! The government was on my side. That’s a relief, because if they’re not with me on this, they’re against me.
Unfortunately the Dep of Ag didn’t have a clue why the island was over-run with yard fowl. They believed it was the result of a few escapees from an agriculture show a few years back. Nice idea in a dream world but Cayman Islands is reality… well, ok, it’s not really reality but that’s beside the point. Anyway, drive around the island and you’ll see yard after yard fouled with yard fowl who are lovingly cared for by residents. Why are there wild chickens everywhere? Because when people raise chickens in unfenced yards they get loose. You don’t need to be Colonel Sanders to figure this out.
At least the Department of Agriculture was proposing a solution and willing to take action. There was hope. Or was there? Turn to page fourteen of the same issue of the same paper and there was a large advertisement from the very same Department of Agriculture telling all “farmers," this probably means anybody, to place their orders for layers and broilers before the May 1 deadline! Say what!? Let me get this straight. The island is overrun with loose chickens. The Department of Agriculture both recognizes this as a problem AND at the same time sells chickens to anybody who wants them so they can run free in their yards?! Talk about scrambled eggs! We were doomed.
The barrage of letters from outraged Caymanians started flowing in. Who could blame them? I was outraged, why shouldn’t they be too? But, not all of them seemed to see things through the same bloodshot eyes I did. The pro-chicken life arguments were, shall I say, quaint? “Chickens are charming. Haven’t you ever watched a mother hen wait for the light to turn green before crossing the street with her brood”? Well, that would make chickens more intelligent than many of the tourists off the cruise ships. That does make sense but I just don’t buy it. I don’t even think a chicken can see color let alone comprehend what a traffic light is. I believe the tourists can see color.
“Chickens make good companions for our children and are free food for the poor." Wait a minute here! Was this bird brain telling us she lets her kids play in a yard fouled with yard fowl? Ever hear of salmonella? Probably not. And when dinner time comes she kills her kid’s playmates and then forces them to eat their own pets!? “Sorry Scooter, it’s time to put down Mr. Bigglesworth. I need to chop off his head for dinner." Well, now THAT’S not going to cause any mental scars is it? I just hope Scooter washed his hands before dinner.
Of course there was the retaliatory letter of reason. “Loose chickens will drive down the value of ocean-side condos." God forbid! Let me tell you, there are NO chickens wandering loose on the grounds of any of these multi-million dollar condo complexes on Seven Mile Beach. That’s one of the unseen perks you get when you lay down five million smackers to live in a Caribbean beachfront apartment, NO CHICKENS! But you bet your bottom dollar the grounds keeper has a yard full of them. Or is it that chickens can read the “Private Property for Residents and Guests Only” sign at the gate? It was a nice try and clearly this guy was with me not against me but he’ll need a better argument if he wants to sway the people.
Another avid chicken heart wrote in with a staggering revelation. “Chickens are beautiful and people can learn about life by watching them." Well, I suppose I’ve learned about the food chain but the lesson has grown old. But wait, there’s more! “We should encourage tourists to come to the Cayman Islands for the chicken watching." I am not joking. This was serious. People should spend their hard-earned moola to come to a tropical island not for the 80 degree calm, crystal clear ocean, beautiful tropical sandy beach with their Corona beers and any of a number of water sports but for the chicken watching!? Give me a break! Where has this person lived all his or her life, on an island? We’ve got a number of indigenous species truly unique and worth looking for like the severely threatened Grand Cayman Blue Iguana found nowhere else in the world. But forget them! Come look at our chickens!
People got so riled up over this issue they started to view the chicken population as endangered. Balderdash! The Department of Agriculture practically guarantees they’ll replace any lost, stolen or assassinated chickens. Not to mention, these little bastards are as hardy and adaptable as any government bureaucrat. That’s why we have so many. Good luck wiping them out. And forget about the blue iguanas. At last count there were maybe as many as twenty in the wild. Since there’s no realistic chance of spotting one of them why bother? Besides, even if they do taste like chicken, iguanas don’t understand traffic signals. Therefore, we must SAVE THE CHICKENS! And don’t forget, they are free food, organic to boot even if they are endangered.
All this debating was fine and dandy but it was time for some real action! No more pussy footing around! We needed to make Grand Cayman safe from the insurgent birds. The standard weapon of choice as everybody claimed, was the slingshot. Yeah right, some kid’s wooden toy with a rubber band isn’t going to do diddly squat! They just don’t have the accuracy, range or chutzpah. What I wanted was a state-of-the-art, deluxe titanium wrist rocket or better yet a really gnarly crossbow! Sadly, Ted Nugent doesn’t have a Killin’ and Grillin’ Emporium on Grand Cayman. Oh well. You go to war with the army you have.
My army of one only had rocks. Laugh now tough-guys! I have just as much luck nailing chickens with rocks as I do with my Suzuki. It sounds simple but it isn’t. One mission took me out into the mangrove swamp looking for one especially taunting rooster of evil. I could hear him loud and clear but I couldn’t see him. He was close, real close. Unfortunately Charlie went silent every time I got near. It was a wild goose chase. I suppose if I had some decent commando training I’d lay low until he revealed himself. But mangrove swamps are full of creepy crawlies. You go sit out there if you think it’s easy. Charlie got away to torment another day.
As a result of the letters to the editor, I began to see the chicken issue as a dividing line between born and raised Caymanians and us ex-pats. I started my own survey and asked everyone I knew if they were pro or con chicken. The results were not what I had expected. I found an equal number of native Caymanians who hated the little beasties as well as us implants who actually liked them. Another thing I found that surprised me was the number of wealthy people who kept them. It seems to be some sort of misplaced quest for the island experience. If you have a 5 million dollar home on the beach complete with satellite TV, your own private Olympic swimming pool, tennis court, yacht and four car garage to house your collection of luxury SUV’s why add a coop full of chickens in your yard? I’m sorry but I just don’t get it. If you really want the Caribbean experience, chickens are fine but so are, shall we say, more modest accommodations? Don’t bring a heap of opulence and then add a flock of fowl droppings to your yard. You aren’t really living the island lifestyle that way, now are you? Pick one or the other. Those who are less unfortunate than the rest of us don’t need a bunch of chickens running around loose in their yards to survive.
This brings up that “chickens are free food for the needy” argument. The Cayman Islands have one of the highest standards of living in the world. I’ll admit it’s a bit misleading, since the sheer volume of millionaires throws the statistic off but still, we aren’t packed together in plywood chicken shacks. I started asking people if they ate the chickens. Consistently I was told “no." Did they know of anybody who did? “No." In fact I only found one person who admitted to eating the chickens, a native Caymanian checker at one of the grocery stores. But when asked if she needed to eat the chickens she said “no, we just do." It was tradition. Okay fine, one out of 37,000 eats the free birds. I’m sure there are a few more, but probably very few. This certainly kills the argument that we need to keep wild chickens around to feed the needy.
Charlie the chicken and his brethren had to die. It was not just a matter of my own personal security. The homeland had to be kept safe from these salmonella-infested bioterrorists.
And then there was Divine Intervention. My prayers were answered, well, not in exactly the way I wanted. I didn’t get a weapon of mass destruction, but what did happen was hurricane Ivan scoured the island clean. God works in wondrous ways. With half the island under water and 150 mph winds, not a banty would remain. I even had the opportunity to stop by a sporting goods store in Houston while hiding from Ivan and found a nice juicy crossbow. I fondled it with lust and thought to myself, “this is The Exterminator!” It was even approved by The Nuge himself! However, I had no room in my luggage for luxury items. I set it back on the rack. I no longer needed it anyway. Without a shadow of a doubt the evil chicken insurgents had been liberated from Grand Cayman Island.
A month after Ivan, I returned home. I viewed the hurricane carnage with deep satisfaction. The island was a wreck and with that my home. Was it worth it? Heck yeah! Freedom from chickens comes at a cost. Now I would get some sleep! I drove down the jeep trail formerly a paved road to the remains of my house. There were sand dunes where there had been trees. What foliage that hadn’t been uprooted and tossed into some guy’s condo or BMW was blown over and just barely showing signs of new buds. No chickens were to be seen as I turned down my street. Oh joy! The mangrove swamp was defoliated better than an Agent Orange strike. It smelled like victory. I stepped out of my new beat up Suzuki Dive Master Special and surveyed the battle ground. The area was chicken free. Liberation was at hand.
Then I heard him, clear as a bell, Charlie had survived.
"NO SLEEP FOR YOU”!
Elizabeth Gyllensvard and Mike (in Tokyo) Rogers helped edit this article.
Tom Chartier [send him mail] played lead guitar in legendary Los Angeles punk band The Rotters for 26 years until their final appearance in January of 2004. He has lived in Tokyo, Japan as well as Los Angeles working in the entertainment industry. He is the primary caregiver of his nine-year-old son and currently resides on Grand Cayman Island in the Caribbean.