Living with sisters

Last year I started building a little office in the garage.

To avoid using the somewhat predictable handle “man-cave” for my work/meditation/cig-smoking space, several names were proposed, including: The Sugar Shack, The War Room and The Bro-hole. None of them stuck, and we usually just call it the shack.

Around Derbytime, I finally “finished” the shack, which is to say I built a couple bookshelves, vacuumed the rug and called it done. But just as I stuffed my as-yet-unread copies of “The Federalist Papers” and “The History of Byzantium” behind my worn collection of Alan Moore “Swamp Thing” comics, a group of guests moved right on in to set up light house-keeping; I’ve not written one word at my desk until today when they were finally and politely asked to leave.

Fifteen chickens and three ducks were delivered to the post office in a box the size of toaster oven last month. They spilled out like tennis balls. They were so cute. I know, I know, yard chickens are so 2008. I’ve been informed by a reliable source that heritage breed goats and illicit, micro-batch tobacco production are sure to be next on the docket for adventurous urban farmers. Ever behind the times, though, I’m content to hope for a few fresh eggs, cigs rolled for me at the factory, and some goat’s head soup from Mr. Kim’s Korean over on Newburg Road from time to time.

My brother-in-law walked into the kitchen after we’d unpacked the little buggers, pointed to their pen, looked at me and asked, “What are those?” I explained that they were chickens and ducks, a rhetorical volley he effortlessly returned by asking, “So is that what the smell is?”

Yes, it was, and in an effort to better align our home with some pretty basic feng shui principles, the birds were moved into my shack where, presumably, nothing terribly important was happening anyway and at least we weren’t making salad or folding laundry there.

Buddy, these birds make a damn mess and have done so voluminously without one whit of self-respect or deference to their hosts.

It’s been like having a small, dinosaur-derived, tone-deaf version of The Rolling Stones camping in my office. I’d walk in to find them running around outside their pen, cozy on top of my file cabinet, crapping on everything, or just carousing in my sittin’ chair where they cooed and clucked insolently like they owned the damn place. They turned their still-forming gamey little heads to look at me with one suspicious black eye like I was a hotel manager barging in on a wicked coke party to politely inquire about the color television set recently thrown off the balcony. I should have asked for a deposit.

Eighteen fowl is exactly 13 more than are legally allowed on residential properties of less than half an acre in Metro Louisville. The extras are safe and sound on a farm out in the county now, and we’re left with a very legal five non-crowing hens along with one duck who, while quiet so far, does show signs of becoming an insurgent.

The birds needed to be kept indoors for a few weeks. This proved an unsatisfactory arrangement, and today I finished building their coop which, to mine eyes, looks like the damn Taj Mahal; they’re decidedly unimpressed, though, and keep waddling back into the office looking for another party.

Above the door to the coop, I hung a little imitation wood placard that says “Sisters.” I picked it up at a nunnery yard sale a few years ago, and I’ve proposed naming them accordingly. Sister Agnes is the duck and, as such, is the easiest to identify. I’ve floated the following names for the hens and am awaiting approval from my lady-friend: Sister McNulty, Sister Sobotka, Sister Beatrice, Sister Kima, and Frauline Head-Mistress Schönvogel. We’ll see.

From the window in my cleaned-up, bleached, muck-free shack just now, I watched the ladies navigate the little ramp up to their nesting box for the evening. Sister Agnes was the last to figure it out; I had to place little bits of lettuce on the ramp to coax her up. She got the hang of it and finally hunkered down beneath the heat lamp with her dozing sisters for a snooze.

Everything and everyone in their right and proper place. I think I’ll sit and watch them sleep for a while.