For the life of me, I can’t figure out how I got here. A month ago, I was contently adjusting to my short stay in Purgatory, waiting for the bus to Heaven. Then, out of the blue – poof – I find myself standing in the middle of Mandelbaum’s Commercial Poultry Farm in Bakersfield, California. Both are a long way from Heaven.
My life came to an abrupt end during a fluke rock climbing accident in Yosemite National Park. Given my vile and contemptible life on earth, it came as no surprise that I’d be sent to Purgatory before I made it past the pearly gates. But, nobody told me about reincarnation. Granted, they said there was an outside chance I’d be forced to spend a little more time on earth before rising to the great beyond, but Mandelbaum’s Poultry Farm? C’mon. Give me a break. Even Bernie Madoff got to enjoy 3 weeks as a Burmese belly dancer before they shipped him off to Hell.
I was dropped into the middle of a chicken coop on a busy Friday afternoon in the form of a mature Rhode Island Red – eight and half pounds of pure Chicken McNuggets. Most of the management had already gone home for the Labor Day weekend, so there weren’t any humans around to complain to. Instead, I was left to my own devices to secure my spot in a pecking order of 8,000 other mature hens and roosters. Looking back, I suppose it could have been worse. If I had arrived a week earlier, I might have already been cut up and slathered with Bar-B-Que sauce on someone’s holiday party platter. Or, I might have woken to find my skewered carcass slowly circling the rotisserie grill in a Gelson’s Market. At least this way, I’d have a couple of days to get to know some of the locals before formulating an escape plan.
The first one to approach me was a 3-year-old Wyandotte hen with a sexy, bright red wattle. “Allen? Is that you? It’s me. Hannah Rifkin. From high school!” Although it was hard to distinguish her features underneath the layers of feathers, I recognized that whiny voice from the five hours we spent together at our senior prom. “Hannah, how are you? You look wonderful. Life has been good to you.” “Aw, you’re just being nice, Allen. Ever since laying those 400 eggs, I just haven’t been able to get this extra weight off.” Hannah spent the remainder of the afternoon showing me around the chicken coop until the sun went down and it was time for the Shabbat meal.
“I’ve got to get out of here,” I told Hannah the next morning. “This has all been a terrible mistake. I didn’t even finish my deep cleaning sessions in Purgatory. And I still have to finish my workbook lessons on wrath and greed before they’ll let me into Heaven. What happens if they ship me off to some mid-west KFC? My life will be over!”
“Well, Allen,” said Hannah. “I hate to be the one to tell you this, but your life as you knew it is already over. The best thing you can do is relax, have some more chicken feed and I’ll introduce you to a few of the other roosters around the pool. On Monday, the staff will be back, they’ll sex you and decide where you belong.”
I was absolutely beside myself. I was miles away from home, lost my wallet, iPhone and Kindle and was badly in need of a Xanax. I hadn’t spoken to either my publisher or my therapist in over 10 days and was 3 weeks behind writing my memoirs. To make matters worse, there wasn’t a laptop or WiFi hotspot within 50 miles. I had no way of sending anyone an email to let them know what was going on. And, without fingers, I’d be reduced to hunting and pecking on a keyboard – literally. That’s assuming I could find a Starbucks with rental terminals.
Monday morning, the staff showed up hung over from the long holiday weekend. It wasn’t likely they were going to be sympathetic to the story of a full grown rooster dropping out of the sky from Purgatory to Mandelbaum Farms, but I had to give it a try. I had to make a break for it.
“So, you don’t think you belong at Mandelbaum Farms, don’t you?” said Feibush. Feibush Gavel was the General Manager at Mandelbaum Farms. “No, there’s been a terrible mistake,” I said. “I’m supposed to be on my way to Heaven.” “Well, I’ve heard that before,” said Feibush. “You know, you could do worse. Some of the souls that dropped down from Purgatory never got a chance to be a Church’s chicken dinner or even an order of TGIF Chicken Fingers. They were sold for Hindu cremation ceremonies or cockfights. Some of the others ended up being sacrificed during a Santerian ritual or slaughtered for a kapparos.”
I gasped. “But I have a masters degree in Hebrew and Aramaic Cultures. I haven’t even started paying off my student loans. There must be something you can do for me.”
Feibush thought about my predicament. He hated sending a college educated capon out to become an order of hot wings or dog treats. Instead, he made me Manager in Charge of the free range herds. It was my job to interview new chicks and determine if they were qualified to roam freely on the ranch. This involved running background checks and pre-employment drug screenings. The hardest part was getting a 12-week-old chick to pee in a cup.
After 7 years, my sight began to go, so Feibush shipped me off to the Mandelbaum Farms retirement home for aging poultry, where I lived out the rest of my life. Eventually, I was invited up to Heaven, where I while away the day, swapping stories with some of my friends who didn’t fare as well as I. I love hearing their stories of nearly escaping deep fryers. Boiling peanut oil-filled woks. I consider myself fortunate to be a college-educated pecker. Things could have been a lot worse.