st. john

H

ow much does a rooster cost? Seriously, think about it. The king of the barnyard animals, the master of the roost, the cock of the walk, the one male bird among all of the hens. How much would such an animal cost? If you would have asked me that question several years ago, I probably would have answered, “60 or 70 dollars.” I would have been way, way off. 

A rooster costs $8.

I know that because I once bought a rooster.

Some reading this would say, “Listen to that St. John, he’s such a city boy. We buy roosters all of the time at our place. Of course, they are $8.” It’s true, I was raised in the city and haven’t spent a lot of time on a farm, but several years ago I was at a book signing in Philadelphia and saw a rooster roaming the neighborhood near the bookstore where I was signing. 

 It was a nice, brisk, fall day, and the owner of the shop placed my signing table on the front porch. I kept seeing a rooster walking up and down the sidewalk and weaving in and out of back yards, and remarked to one of the book-buying locals, “There’s a wild rooster over there.”

“Yep, that’s mine,” he said, like it was a normal thing to have a rooster roaming a neighborhood. The longer I stayed there, and the more the rooster kept walking up and down the sidewalk, the more I fell in love with the idea of having a pet rooster. What I really wanted was to hear a rooster crow in the morning. There is something that is very appealing to me in a rooster’s crow. Those of you who grew up on a farm, might think that is a silly thing, but to a guy who grew up in a subdivision all of his life, it’s a very foreign and exotic concept.

 The next day, I asked my bookkeeper (who owns chickens) if she knew of anyone who might have a rooster for sale, and she said that there was a man down the road from her who had some. I called the man up, he invited me out to his place, and so I grabbed my son, hopped in my truck, and drove into the country where I purchased a brown rooster with a bright red comb for $8.

 On the way home we named him Steve, because he looked like a Steve.

 We put a pan of water out in our carport and spread some corn on the concrete, and— as soon as we let him out of his cage— he flew up and roosted on a bicycle that was hanging upside down in the carport. He stayed roosted on that bike all night. The next morning, I set my alarm early so I would make sure and be awake when Steve crowed. My wife commented, “Do you know how ridiculous it is to buy a rooster, and then set an alarm to wake up before the rooster? Isn’t that the purpose of the rooster, to wake people up?” OK, so maybe my wife didn’t understand the rooster thing. That’s alright. I just didn’t want to miss Steve’s first crowing at our house.

 I laid awake in bed for a few hours that morning, waiting. Nothing. Not even one little cluck. I was worried that I had bought some type of variety of rooster that didn’t crow. I knew there were dogs that didn’t bark. Maybe there are roosters that don’t crow. My worry turned to serious concern when the next morning passed without a sound, as well. I began to think maybe the reason Steve only cost $8 is because his crower was defective. Then again, maybe he was crowing, but we just couldn’t hear him. My wife even called a friend of ours who raises chickens. He assured her that we didn’t have anything to worry about and that Steve was probably just getting used to his surroundings.

 That advice proved to be spot on when the next morning around 5:30 a.m., Steve, obviously after a well-rested evening of sleep on his bicycle, let out a cockadoodledoo that would make any rooster owner proud. It was glorious. It echoed through the pines and up and down the street. I might be a little biased, but it was a world-class display of crowage. It rang loud, it rang clear, and, it wasn’t until that precise moment that I began to worry about my neighbors.

 It’s the one thing I hadn’t thought about. Neighbors. I didn’t live in the country. The next house wasn’t a mile down the road. There were houses on either side of me, and in front of me. Steve’s crow was so loud and clear that it surely could be heard for several blocks. After several mornings, and no phone calls from the neighbors, Steve and I both started to settle into a routine. He crowed every morning, and I woke up as soon as he did. 

 He would pitch down off of his bike, begin his morning walk around our yard, crowing all of the way. He usually ended up on the front porch at the window in front of my daughter’s room (who wasn’t as big of a fan of crowing in the early morning as I).

 A month or so in, I saw something on the local news — I don’t remember what the story was about — but it got me worried that it might be against some city ordinance to own a chicken in the city limits. If it is a law or ordinance, it’s a silly one, because everyone needs a rooster. Nevertheless, no city officials ever bothered me about Steve.

 After a few weeks, I received two phone calls from neighbors who left messages saying, “Mr. St. John, this is so-and-so, please return my call. It’s about your rooster.” Ok, this is it, I thought. Busted. Some grumpy neighbor is going to turn me in to the chicken police. I called both men back and was surprised when both conversations went something like this.

 “Is that your rooster I hear crowing every morning?”

“Yes, but I can explain…”

“I just want to tell you that I grew up on a farm. My daddy raised chickens. I haven’t heard that sound in years. Every morning when your rooster crows, it takes me back to my childhood. Thank you for your rooster.”

 “His name is Steve.”

 Steve lived at our house for a year or so. He became part of the family. He assimilated in with the dogs and cats and was content to roost on his bike, eat corn off of the driveway, and crow every morning while cruising around the yard. Steve even had his own Facebook page where I updated his daily activities. 

 I loved being a rooster owner.

 I was in Jackson on business late one morning and got a call from my yard guy, “Steve’s dead,” he said. It took me aback for a minute. I have a good friend named Steve. I was in a little bit of a state of shock and couldn’t fathom why my yard guy would be calling to tell me my friend Steve had passed. 

 “Oh my God,” I said. “Steve Murphey? This is tragic. I am coming home right away.”

“No,” he said. “Steve your rooster.” I was extremely relived that my good friend Steve was still among the living. But then it hit me that my rooster was dead.

 “What happened?”

“A pack of dogs came and got him.” It was such a weird thing to hear. I have lived in and around that neighborhood for half of a century— the first 18 years spending almost every day outside— and I have never seen a pack of dogs. Nevertheless, that was his story. Steve was gone.

A year later we moved to the house I am living in today. I never bought another rooster, though I have thought about it often. Lately I’ve been thinking about it more. Would my current neighbors be as happy with the sound of a rooster crowing as my old neighbors? Maybe I’ll find out one of these days.

 Either way, if anyone ever asked me, “What was the best $8 you ever spent?” The answer would be a no-brainer. 

RSJ’s Chicken Spaghetti

1 /4 cup Olive oil

2 cups Onion, small dice

2 cups Carrots, shredded

1 /3 cup Garlic, minced

2 tsp Dried Basil

1 tsp Dried Oregano

2 Bay leaves

2 tsp Salt

2 tsp Black pepper, freshly ground

6 oz can Tomato paste

2 28-oz cans Diced tomatoes

28 oz can Crushed tomatoes

1 1 /2 cups Chicken broth (recipe follows)

1 tsp Balsamic vinegar

1 recipe Pulled Chicken meat (recipe follows)

1 lb Spaghetti

1 cup Parmesan cheese

2 cups Mozzarella, grated 

Preheat oven to 350.

In a large heavy duty sauce pot heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onions, carrots and garlic. Cook vegetables for 10 minutes stirring often to prevent sticking. Add basil, oregano, bay leaves, salt, pepper and tomato paste and cook five to six minutes (This will caramelize the tomato paste resulting in a sweeter sauce). Add diced tomatoes, crushed tomatoes and chicken broth. Reduce heat to low. Allow sauce to cook for 3 1/2 hours over very low heat, stirring occasionally to make sure sauce is not sticking. Finally, add the vinegar and pulled chicken.  

Bring the remaining reserved chicken broth to a boil and cook spaghetti until just tender. Strain spaghetti and add to the tomato sauce. Add Parmesan cheese and stir well. Place mixture in a three-quart Pyrex dish and top with shredded mozzarella.  

Cover baking dish first with plastic wrap, then tightly with foil. Bake 40 minutes. Remove from oven and uncover. Let rest for 15 minutes before serving. Yield 8-10

Pulled Chicken and broth 

2 qts Water

2 qts Chicken broth

1 Carrot, peeled and cut into large pieces

1 Onion, peeled and cut into large pieces

1 stalk Celery, peeled and cut into large pieces

1 Bay leaf

1 Tbl Salt

5 lb Chicken

Place ingredients in a large stockpot and simmer two hours. Remove the chicken and Pick the meat. Cut meat into bite size pieces and set aside.

 Strain the chicken broth and return to a large sauce pot.

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