I awoke to sounds of pots and pans clattering… where?
My head hurt. My throat was dry. I opened one stinging eye to see where I was. Whose tent was this? I struggled for consciousness.
The tent fly was partially folded back. I opened my other eye and shifted my body so I could see outside. As I watched, Hank walked past with a bottle of stove fuel. Hank…What was he doing here? And how did I know him? I sat up with a start. A searing pain ballooned in my skull and I almost fainted. I sat very still for several breaths and it retracted into a thick knot at the top of my spine. Very slowly this time I looked around the tent. There was Dave and that other guy… tangled in their sleeping bags, snoring. Wait a minute… how did I know THEM?
As I sat trying to drive the fog from my brain I noticed a plastic medallion tied around my neck with a thin leather thong. I fumbled at it with sleepy fingers and read: “Submit to the Chicken” It began to come back to me.
I had been at the Warm Yellow Fussy camp listening to the whining radio thingy Suddenly everything went silent and I followed the crowd’s eyes out to 6:30. There she stood, all straps and spikes with a little black leather g-string and a mean looking riding crop. Even in that outfit there was no mistaking the Playa Chicken.
She scanned the crowd and I held my breath. Our eyes locked and I felt my knees go weak. The press melted away as she strutted slowly toward me. I swear she never blinked. She stood before me for what seemed like forever, looking me up and down, slapping the riding crop against her rubber thigh. Walking around me once, twice, she scratched and pecked suggestively at the playa. Then she turned and moved slowly toward the bar looking back over her bare shoulder at me. I followed her, hypnotized. I couldn’t remember anything remotely funny about rubber chickens.
With a flurry of plucked wings and a small cloud of dust she hopped up on the bar. Looking at the bartender she pointed at me with her riding crop. I was immediately presented with a large plastic goblet filled with blue slush and an outlandish yellow umbrella. The crowd began to murmur and move around again as I nervously downed the drink. It was instantly replaced with another. The Chicken hadn’t uttered a word. I tried to nurse the second a little so I could make a plan. I couldn’t believe what was happening. This was the Playa Chicken and I didn’t want to do anything stupid.
I started to feel very strange, very light headed and it seemed like I was looking at everything through a tunnel. At the time I thought I was just giddy but in retrospect I’m sure that she had colluded with the bartender to drug me.
Her silence unnerved me. In my growing confusion I guess I felt that the opportunity of a lifetime was slipping through my fingers. I blurted out a pick-up line I had read in a book: “So, I have a feather duster back at my camp…” Her limp body tensed and I knew instantly that I had made a mistake. With a squawk she was leaping and flapping, pecking furiously at my eyes. The drugs were deepening my stupor and I could barely hold her off long enough for the crowd to subdue her. I apologized profusely and there were hugs and more drinks but it seems to me now that the smile on her beak never reached her painted eyes. I should have known there was something very wrong but when she hopped down from the bar and tugged at my pant leg, like a fool, I followed her.
After that things got really weird. I remember crawling through forests of legs, naked, on my hands and knees with a collar on my neck and the Chicken holding the leash. With relentless pecks and vicious lashes from her crop she drove me to the next club and then the next. The Temple of Ishtar, Biancas, all around center camp. There were hundreds, thousands of camera flashes. I talked for a long time to a man with a microphone and an Italian accent while his buddy with a giant video camera circled us. I think I gave my parent’s address to someone who said she was from The Seattle Weekly. In my last memory that makes any sense at all, I was plodding toward the giant Jiffy Lube sign with the Chicken riding on my shoulder clucking and squawking softly.
Now here I sit with hundreds of welts and what I can only assume are peck marks all over my body. My neck is chafed from the collar. My hands and knees are cracked and bleeding from the alkaline playa. I’m dehydrated. My fiercely heterosexual psyche is reeling at the possibilities of the last few hours.
Hank appears in the tent door and smiles. “Isn’t she something?”
“What?” I croak.
“The Chicken man.” Hank looked a little closer at me, shook his head a little and smiled. “Every morning since we set up camp this year she’s brought one of you whitebread boys over to sleep one off. I guess she figures you’re as safe here as anywhere. You still had some left when you got here though. I see that you don’t remember but you made quite an impression. Would you like some hot granola?”
“Uh no… no thanks very much…no.” I mumble. “But umm… do you think there are some jeans or something around here I could borrow for a while?”
I limp toward my camp in Hushville hiking up a pair of giant floral parachute pants every few steps. Will I be able to tell the guys back at the office about this? I don’t know. I don’t know… but for now I can only stew about last night and about the Chicken. God help me, I think I love her.