Was it something I said?

Savannah Morning News Column, Feb. 16, 2014

Dear Big Girl: Please call home.

Seriously. I am worried. And I miss you. One minute you were balanced on the fence, standing tall, all puffed out, looking around, catching a breeze, studying a cloud, maybe staring at a flying squirrel, considering your options. (This, after you and the others discovered you could fly, that those things wrapped around you weren’t just there for window dressing or to keep you warm, that they had actual purpose.).

OK, I thought at the time. I get it. I’m not stupid. You found the broccoli safely planted on the other side of the fence (before you knew you could fly, which doesn’t count the one hysterical time during the Tour de Coup when some kids ruffled your feathers and you took off, straight up). So get your fill. Do your nibbling. I know where I can get more broccoli. Do your exploring (I understand the urge). Spread your wings. What a glorious feeling that must be, to fly, sort of like the Olympic ski jumpers in Sochi, gliding, soaring, defying gravity. Oh my. And you can do it without studying any of the physics. I get it. You’re trying to see what kind of stuff you’re made of.

But then you didn’t come back. I didn’t worry too much. I thought for sure you’d show up the next morning, swooping in from some high branch, startling us all, ready with some tall tale to tell of the outside world especially when I promised some Thin Mint Girl Scout cookies, some peanut butter patties. But you didn’t. I looked everywhere.

Aha, I thought. Maybe you flew as far as Daffin Park. Maybe the cry of that errant rooster three blocks north piqued your curiosity, tickled your feathers and you decided to join your brothers and sisters in exile, that band of merry fellows, orphans I’m assuming, that have made a home for themselves under the azaleas, near the tennis courts, close to the pond. So I went over to look. But you weren’t there.

Then I thought it must be a hawk that snatched you. I’ve seen a few around here, ravenous looking things. Big, too. But then someone told me when hawks catch a chicken there are always feathers left behind. But I found no feathers, anywhere. Then I thought it must be a cat (although it would have to be a mighty big cat to do you in). Again, no feathers. No beaks. No feet. Nothing. No sign at all.

(Was it something I said?)

Of all the chickens we have back there in your little cobbled together nuclear unit I never thought you’d be the first to go (if you don’t count Big Red; she died in her sleep, in the coup). You were the most vital, the most lively, the most friendly. You were the leader. Frankly, I thought we had something special between us.

Anyway, you’ll never guess what’s going on in your absence. You know those three bantams? The twins and the one outcast? Well, they have not wasted a minute filling in the gap. The outcast has become the leader. Whatever she does, the twins copy.

But here’s the really weird thing. Now she is crowing. No, really. This chicken I took for a hen is crowing. She looks bigger, too. At first I thought she was just verbally mourning your absence but then I listened closer. She is actually crowing. She has assumed Top Chicken status. I go to feed them and she steps in between me and the Twins. But mostly she’s atop the highest perch she can find telling the world that she is in charge and she is hungry. But that’s the problem. We don’t really want any crowers, any boasters. We want our neighbors to like us. Next thing you know she’ll – or should I see he’ll; these gender transformations are hard to keep up with – will grow spurs and start kicking me when I go to feed the worms.

You never crowed, Big Girl. You were modest. You led from strength. Where are you? Please call home. Better yet, please come home.

Breaking up is hard to do

Savannah Morning News column

Nov. 10, 2013

Like many things, I had expected a little more from my decision. But in the end it was a simple case of, “Not with a bang but a whimper.”

It started with the phone call.

I was trying to give away my car. My second car.  But which car? The youngster, a 1996 Taurus wagon, or the old Isuzu pickup-truck, circa 1992?

For years I’ve been hearing the pleas on our local public radio station. Got an unwanted car? How about a boat? Call this number and help us out. It’s tax deductible; you’ll be helping the cause. So instead of selling the car to someone local, seeing it broken down in some ditch and feeling guilty, I made the call.

The truck is a gardener’s vehicle, banged up and a little rough around the edges.

One summer when I rented out my house to an archeologist who was spending a few months overseeing a dig in South Carolina, she said what she really wanted to rent was my truck.

But why?

“It’s already beat up,” she said. “It’s a perfect archeologist’s truck.”

Then again, the Taurus is in pretty good shape. Except for a broken rear window that the insurance didn’t cover, a few new tires, a new serpentine belt, a new catalytic converter and a couple dozen other maladies, the car – a beige wagon, just like all the other Taurus wagons from 1996 still on the road (what is it with beige? Who could possibly have thought that would be a popular color?) — didn’t cost me anything. I got it out of my Uncle Harry’s garage outside his condo in Scottsdale, Ariz., after he died and my cousins said they didn’t want it. It had 26,000 miles, a handicapped sticker, a pad of paper with his name – Harry Modell – printed on top, a note in his familier  handwriting about some missed golf game and the original owners guide from Detroit, Michigan (“Your satisfaction is our #1 goal”).

“OK,” the voice on the other end of the 800-number said. “Where do you live?”


“And that would be in what state?”


“Let me ask you something,” I said. “Where are you?”


That’s who takes your call when you finally decide to give away your car to help out the public radio station in your own town.

Call me crazy. I expected someone local to answer my call. I did not expect them to source out the task. I felt a little deflated.

“Do you mind if I ask a few more questions like your age, race, etc.,” the voice said.

Seriously, Seri? Is that what this is all about? Getting information from a live body that you can turn around and sell to someone else?

“Yes,” I said. “I do.”

“We’ll be there sometime next week between nine and noon.”

In the time it took to vote (no big decision there; after the way our esteemed leaders mismanaged, mishandled, misappropriated the situation with the police chief and then let him off the hook with who knows what kind of pension benefits I’m supposed to give them more money?), to plant my garlic, to buy some chicken feed, I got the call. The tow truck was on its way.

I peeled off a bumper sticker: “No chickens? That’s clucked up” (another city reference, another story).  I unscrewed a vanity bumper plate of a penguin with a hockey stick (another city reference, this time a team in Pittsburgh). I removed some solar doohickey my mechanic gave me that plugs into the cigarette lighter portal to help keep the battery alive. I looked under the seats and retrieved a handful of pens. I checked the glove box one more time and then stood back to watch an affable man named Fulton chain it up like some ailing dinosaur and hoist it away.

In the end I chose to give away the younger car, the 1996er, not the oldster, closing in on 21.

I thought I might be sad, the end of my connection with a car that served me well. Instead I thought about a birthday card I found when I was cleaning out my mother’s things after she died. It was a card from Harry, my bon vivant, generous, kibitzing uncle who never really drove the Taurus anyway. It said, “Happy birthday, Rosie, from your baby brother.” She was 90, he was 87.

That made me sad.

Bye-bye, catfish car