Probably my favourite moment in THE HANGOVER arrives when Ed Helms awakens after a night of epic Las Vegas partying and groggily takes note of a chicken wandering around his smooth mammoth suite. Such a small example of incongruous forces at play; there are, after all, few places in life where a live chicken feels right. A cognitive clash starts to ring its small bell at the back of our heads – these worlds should not mix, not the realms of a penthouse and the stride of a fowl. The five second (or so) scene is a harbinger of small sorts; surely what follows will feature even more odd intersections that cross the clear norms of what we hope our boundaries will be. It kind of sets up a buried theme of the flick, which might be: when we forget what we do, what’s done will come back. I don’t think they ever explained where that chicken came from, or how it got to be there in that room, but no matter – its mere presence was enough to ignite endless fires. And I’m here to testify that the film doesn’t lie.
The other day I came back into my room right after my run and had the fright of my life as a gift from some gods. A chicken’s soft cluck was enough to make small sounds with great pitch hurl straight from my lips. One doesn’t ever expect to find a common farm animal announce itself and its presence right there on your bed. Take it from me: THE HANGOVER’s filmmakers knew that a dissonant sight is enough to create a great panic. Chickens will do that.
It must have come through the window, which is always half-open, because I locked the door when I left only ninety minutes before. And it was not a total surprise, an inexplicable event, because there are always chickens wandering around near the house, living out their lives’ tiny span in unknowing dumb cheer. Still: To come into a room that you know is now empty and have a chicken instead as its sole occupant? Well. Obscenities might have been said. (Why the mind must reach and then grasp the worst words that one knows when in fear or great anger I’ll never quite get.) The chicken, too, seemed to blurt out its own kind of swear words. If I was scared, it was petrified; in situations like this, surely chicken-language must have its fall-back profanities. (If I’m wrong, and chickens, in fact, do not speak in grammatical phrases of their own special making, and instead are reduced to those gobbles that are indeed only gibberish, then I feel for them, those future hot wings and afternoon sandwich-bread fillers. What a way to move through life. Enunciating only sounds of pure nonsense that mean not a thing. Unlike us humans. Wait.)
You feel like a fool. An idiot, at best. Here you are, ostensibly an adult, a university graduate, respected pillar of a community (at least in your own mind), and you find yourself navigating the best way to remove from the bed a scared shitless chicken. If I had grown up on a farm, milking cows at first light, branding horses’ large hooves and feeding pigs their gross slop, a task such as this might be a chore and a bore. In my world that I’ve lived, it’s instead an example of life’s absurd turn of tides. One can plan, but existence will, without fail, at one time or the next, deliver a chicken for you to deal with, have a go, best of luck. Should I pick it up by its chest? Will it peck? Do chicken’s beaks draw blood right away? As I made a soft lunge it leaped up to the dresser and then onto the closet. Where it was stuck. Wouldn’t move. Terrified. After a few minutes I heard someone making clucking noises, which perplexed the bird more, and I realized that man was myself, and I thought: Good lord, I’m a knob.
Eventually, order prevailed. A chicken-expert arrived, and the bird was returned to its wild, not five feet from the house. How little it takes to disrupt our weak worlds! To access our dumb fears. I realized once again that life is a game that requires simple rules. Otherwise, some primal part of ourselves starts to whine ‘it’s all rigged!’ How can I contemplate Libya’s near ruin at all when I’m faced with a chicken camped out on my turf?
Certain worlds shouldn’t clash, but they do, all the time. At least we can restore our own orders with effort and time. Even a chicken’s wild flight must come to an end. The sky would not fall. Equilibrium can come to a disordered plane. That’s what I smugly believed as I sat down on my bed. I hadn’t yet noticed the light-pink oval egg perched right on top of my pillow.