Description of a town in New Mexico.
|On the (Other) Road to Chicken
Chicken, New Mexico, has much to thank Thompson of One Blue Moon for. He it was who wrote of the Texas Chicken and, in doing so, caused the occasional confusion that allowed Chicken NM to be noticed by the world. I confess that I was one of those who found themselves in the wrong Chicken when seeking to retrace Moon's steps to his fabled destination.
It is done easily enough, after all. Buy a ticket for Chicken in Albuquerque's bus station (after congratulating oneself on finding a bus that appears to go there directly) and you will find yourself in the New Mexico version. Naturally, the local designers of bus timetables would assume that any reference to Chicken meant theirs; who would expect a bus to head precisely for Chicken TX from Albuquerque? A point that did not strike me until I had been in Chicken NM for several hours already.
In a way, I am quite glad that I stepped off the bus and watched it disappear down the long road to the next sleepy little town before establishing that I was in the wrong place. Without that error, I would never have come to know Chicken NM, a town even more obscure than Moon's hallowed hometown. Slightly less populous (37) than its famous namesake and with an unpromising aspect, Chicken NM is yet the repository of untold legends that deserve to be heard.
Granted, there is little indication at first sight that the town holds such secrets. Situate apparently in the center of a vast, dry and almost featureless plain, with buildings having seen better days and, in some cases, abandoned, and only the faint and hazy blue outline of the Kinnell Hills breaking the ruler-straight horizon, this seems to be the epitome of a town in its death throes.
Yet there are clues present even in that first impression. The most obvious of these is the strange, rocky outcrop that rises behind the town, a towering pile that makes a mockery of my use of the word "featureless". It comes as no surprise that this is known as the Andover Fist for it mimics exactly that portion of the human anatomy.
Even in those early moments, one cannot help but feel the aura of mystery that emanates from the distant Kinnell Hills. In all my inquiries into the subject, I could find no one who would admit to visiting their vague, misty peaks, shimmering in the heat haze from the intervening miles. It is no wonder that they are known locally as the Far Kinnells.
All of this pales into insignificance beside the character of the residents of Chicken, however. Many are the names and faces that inhabit my memory forever but, perhaps, one stands out from the crowd through sheer magnificent originality. His name was Glass Hopper and he was introduced to me as the town drunk.
That turned out to be an honorary title anyway, since most of the townsmen were perpetually drunk, or so it seemed to me, and Glass was, if anything, one of the steadiest on his feet. He told me that he had won the election held on the retirement of the previous town drunk. That had been in 1971 and every election since had been uncontested, leaving Glass to soldier on valiantly.
This was no easy task, it was pointed out to me. Glass had also been sheriff since 1987 (another uncontested election victory) and so was duty-bound to throw himself into the lock-up every Saturday night. Although he became quite good at the physical difficulties involved in this, the constant change of abode began to get on his nerves and, in '92, he moved into the jail permanently.
It turned out that Glass held most of the official positions in Chicken, mainly because of a lack of ambition in the other menfolk. Mayor, Postmaster, Undertaker (he did admit to me once that he had never actually buried anyone but the title was his even so), Bar Owner, Stables Manager, Blacksmith, Hotel Keeper (in which capacity he enabled my stay in Chicken), Fire Chief, the titles rolled on and on. Most of them were voluntary and unpaid, however, and he was able to devote as much (or as little) time to them as he pleased. Unlike the substance he was named for, he was quite flexible.
I asked him once about his unusual name, wondering whether it had been given or was an unlikely nickname. "Ah," he said, "Ah'm glad you assed me thet." There followed a silence so long that I thought he might have fallen asleep, although his eyes still regarded the ceiling with a piercing gaze. Eventually he turned to look directly at me, however, and told me that both my guesses were correct. He was the son of a German couple who had been heading west until distance defeated them and they settled where they had stopped. That happened to be Chicken, of course. And he had been their only child, named Klaus initially and officially. Over the course of time, the locals had adapted the strange-sounding foreign name until it was more to their liking and Glass he had become.
Naturally, I refused to believe such a banal tale and spent much of my remaining time in Chicken collecting the various explanations of the locals. None of them told the same story and I confess that I became more confused than enlightened in the end. I like the one about a mysterious Tibetan mentor to Glass, however.
Glass had always been single, I was told, and so there were no little Hoppers playing in the dust of Main Street (which was an exaggeration typical of the town - it should have been called Only Street). But Glass himself related the tale of the beautiful Greek immigrant, Eva Porates, who had somehow found her way to Chicken. He took her on as barmaid in the Wayout Inn and, for a time, romance blossomed between them. She had an uncanny ability to disappear at relevant moments, however, and all hopes were dashed when she ran off with the town's only millionaire, Guillermo Goncalves Julio Riccardomontalban Arbitrario Jones.
Recent immigrants seemed to be drawn to Chicken and all added to the flavor of a town that was becoming unique. There was Ivan Nikitoff, a Russian who specialized in yard sales. His were a little different from most, the goods always spotless and, occasionally, with price tags only partially ripped off. Glass was suspicious in his capacity as sheriff but let things pass, so popular were the Russian's sales. Bill Stickers was an Englishman who arrived with a mountain of gear, intent upon prospecting in the Kinnell Hills. After a night in the bar of the Wayout, he decided to rest in the town a little longer and, two weeks later, he bought the Bald Eagle Barber Shoppe and learned how to cut hair. He was still barbering during my visit, although so few of the locals frequented his shop that he had established a sideline in selling prospecting gear to passers by.
The list goes on and on but over it all towers both the Fist and its human variant, Glass Hopper. Some say that Chicken will die when Glass goes and, having known him at the height of his powers, I believe it. Looking back now I see that it was the setting that cried out for the man and it was only Glass that was big enough to answer the call. And, as the sun goes down over the Kinnells, leaving the sky to glow golden with the promise of another night of revelry in the Wayout, we can say indeed that we have tasted Chicken - but through a Glass, darkly.
Word Count: 1,306