Sunday, February 6, 2011

the happiness of chickens

Every culture has its' own set of unspoken rules governing interaction in public space, norms dictating how close you can walk behind someone, how many people can comfortably fit on/in the motorcycle/minibus/train car, and what circumstances justify interaction with a stranger. In New York, this last one involves a lot of non-interaction. Lots of trying to not make eye contact on a crowded train. Lots of waiting silently on subway platforms. Lots of passing people on the sidewalk without even looking up.

From my observations it takes something special to make a New Yorker engage a stranger - a particularly cute baby, an especially good book (like the exclamations I got while reading Jeannette Walls' The Glass Castle recently), shared frustration over some shortcoming of public transit (okay, so maybe that last one's not so special, but commiseration is still nice).

I find those moments are especially few and far between in neighborhoods like the ones I live and work in, where differences in language and race and the tensions of gentrification further inhibit conversation. So one of the bright spots in an otherwise dreary week (lots of tax clients + freezing rain + working every day), was reading this story from the NY Times. Set in Bed-Stuy (the neighborhood I work in), it involves not only one of those rare opportunities to break the code of non-interaction, it also features chickens.
And what's not to love? There's something intrinsically happy about a chicken. The name: a little hiccup in the mouth. The shape: a jaunty upswing of feathers, a grin. The ceaseless bobbing, scratching, pecking. It's nearly impossible to feel melancholy in the presence of chickens.

1 comment:

  1. Love the Gertrude story! Chickens bring much delight to many, myself included. I love hearing my grandmother tell stories of her precious hens when she was a little girl growing up on the farm. Last month she and my grandfather went to pick out their headstones for the cemetery. Hilariously enough, she is getting an image of a chicken engraved on to hers! :)

    (p.s. that picture you included in your post sure looks familiar!)