The Hoboken Chicken Emergency

D. Manus Pinkwater

Nobody in Arthur Bobowicz's family really liked turkey. Certainly, the kids didn't like it as much as chicken or duck. They suspected that Momma and Poppa didn't like it very much either. Still, they had a turkey every Thanksgiving, like almost every family in Hoboken. "Thanksgiving is an important American holiday." Poppa would say. "You kids are Americans, and you ought to celebrate important American holidays. On Thanksgiving, you eat turkey. Would you want people to think you were ungrateful?" Poppa came from Poland, and he was very big on holidays and being an American. There was no arguing with him. They had turkey every year.

Most of the kids in the neighborhood had the same scene at home. Some of them liked turkey, some of them didn't-- but they had all had it on Thanksgiving. They all had fathers like Arthur Bobowicz's father -- they came from Italy, and the Ukraine, and Puerto Rico, and Hong Kong. The kids were all being raised to be Americans, and everyone's father knew that Americans ate turkey on Thanksgiving. Late in November, in the windows of the stores in Hoboken, where ducks had hung, and sausage, and legs of lamb -- turkeys appeared. For the rest of the year, anyone who wanted a turkey would have to clear out of town. The turkeys appeared in Hoboken at Thanksgiving, no other time.

It was Arthur's job to go and get the family turkey. Poppa had reserved a turkey weeks in advance at Murphy's Meat Market. On Thanksgiving morning, Arthur was supposed to go to the market and bring back the turkey, a big one. The whole family was going to be there -- uncles and aunts, some cousins, Momma and Poppa, and Arthur's little brother and sister. Bringing back the turkey was an important job. Once it came into the house, all the cooking and rushing out for last-minute things from the store, and all the good smells would start. It was a good holiday, and all the kids enjoyed it -- but it would have been even better if they had a duck or a chicken.

Something had gone wrong at Murphy's Meat Market. Somehow Poppa's turkey reservation had gotten lost. Every turkey had some family's name on it -- none of them had the name Bobowicz. Arthur ran down Garden Street and up the stairs of the apartment house. He told his mother about the mistake at the meat market.

"Maybe you'd better go back and get two chickens and a duck." his mother said. She was almost smiling. "I'll explain it to your father." Arthur was sure she didn't like turkey either -- why wouldn't she admit it?

Things had gone even more wrong than Arthur had thought. When he got back to Murphy's Meat Market, there wasn't a single chicken in the place -- no ducks either. All they had were turkeys. and every one of them was reserved for somebody else. Arthur was bothered by this, but not terribly worried. There were lots of stores and markets in Hoboken -- German and Italian butchers, Spanish groceries, supermarkets. You can get almost anything to eat in the world in Hoboken -- except a turkey, a chicken. or a duck on Thanksgiving, as Arthur found out. He went to every store in town that might possibly have a bird. He went to a few stores that probably did not have birds -- just in case.

 

"This is a fish market! What makes you think we'd have turkeys or chickens, you silly kid?"

"No chickens in a vegetable store, you silly kid!"

"Silly kid! This is an Indian spice store. Curry powder, we've got; mango chutney, we've got; flash-frozen chapatis, we've got -- birds we do not have."

Arthur was looking for turkeys, chickens, ducks, geese -- he would have taken any kind of bird at all. There wasn't anything of the kind to be found in the whole town. It was getting to be late in the morning, and it was snowing a little. Arthur was getting depressed. This was the first time he had the job of getting the Thanksgiving bird, and he had messed it up. He had tried every place; he had sixteen dollars in his pocket, and he hadn't found a single bird. He walked along River Street. He didn't want to go home and tell his mother the bad news. He felt tired, and the cold was going right through him. He noticed a card stuck in the window of an apartment house door:

Professor Mazzocchi

Inventor of the Chicken System

By appointment

Arthur rang the bell. What did he have to lose? The door-buzzer buzzed, and he pushed it open. He stood at the bottom of the stairs. A voice from above shouted, "You will not get me evicted! My brother owns this building! I am a scientist! If you people don't stop bothering me, I'll let the rooster loose again!"

"Do you have a chicken for sale?" Arthur shouted -- he was desperate.

"What? You want to buy a chicken? Come right up!" the voice from above answered. Arthur climbed the stairs. At the head of the stairs was an old man. He was wearing an old bathrobe with dragons embroidered on it. "I have been waiting for years for someone to come to buy a superchicken," the old man said. "The only people who ever come here are neighbors to complain about my chickens. They don't want me to keep them."

"You keep chickens in your apartment?" Arthur asked.

"A farm would be better," Professor Mazzocchi said, "but my brother lets me stay here without paying any rent. Also, they are special chickens. I prefer to keep them under lock and key."

"We need one to cook for Thanksgiving." Arthur said.

"A large family?" Professor Mazzocchi asked.

"All my cousins are coming." Arthur said.

"And how much money did you bring?" the old man asked. "Sixteen dollars? Good. Wait here." The old man went inside the apartment with Arthur's sixteen dollars. When he opened the door, Arthur heard a clucking sound, but not like any clucking sound he had ever heard -- it was deeper, louder. Arthur had a feeling that this wasn't going to work out.

He was right. Professor Mazzocchi came out of the apartment a few minutes later. He was leading a chicken that was taller than he was. "This is the best poultry bargain on Earth," he said, "a medium-sized superchicken -- six cents a pound -- here's your two-hundred-and-sixty-six-pound chicken, on the hoof. She'll be mighty good eating. Please don't forget to return the leash and collar." and Professor Mazzocchi closed the apartment door.

Arthur stood on the landing with the giant chicken for a while. The chicken looked bored. She shifted from foot to foot, and stared at nothing with her little red eyes. Arthur was trying to understand what had just happened. He was trying to believe there was a two-hundred-and-sixty-six pound chicken standing in the hallway with him. Arthur was feeling numb.

Then Arthur found himself pounding on Professor Mazzocchi's door. "No refunds!" Professor Mazzocchi shouted, without even opening the door.

"Don't you have anything smaller?" Arthur shouted.

"No refunds!" Professor Mazzocchi, inventor of the Chicken System, shouted. Arthur could see that this was all he was going to get from Professor Mazzocchi. He picked up the end of the leash.

"She is a bargain, when you consider the price per pound." Arthur thought. The chicken tamely followed Arthur down the stairs.

Everybody noticed the chicken as Arthur led it home. Most people didn't want to get too close to it. Some people made a sort of moaning noise when they saw the chicken. Arthur and the chicken arrived at the apartment house where the Bobowicz family lived. Arthur led the chicken up the stairs and tied the leash to the bannister. Then he went in to prepare his mother.

"That took a long time," she said. "Did you get a bird?"

"I got a chicken." Arthur said.

"Well, where is it?" his mother asked.

"I left it in the hall." Arthur said. "It only cost six cents per pound."

"That's very cheap," His mother said. "Are you sure there's nothing wrong with it? Maybe it isn't fresh."

"It's fresh," Arthur said. "It's alive."

"You brought home a live chicken?" His mother was getting excited.

"It was the only one I could find." Arthur started to cry. "I went to all the stores, and nobody had any turkeys or chickens or ducks, and finally I bought this chicken from an old man who raises them in his apartment."

Arthur's mother was headed for the door. "Momma, it's a very big chicken!" Arthur shouted. She opened the door. The chicken was standing there, shifting foot to foot, blinking.

"CLUCK." it said. Arthur's mother closed the door, and just stood staring at it. She didn't say anything for a long time.

Finally she said, "There's a two-hundred-pound chicken in the hall." She was talking to the door.

"Two hundred and sixty-six pounds." Arthur said, he was still sobbing.

"Two hundred and sixty-six pounds of live chicken." his mother said. "It's wearing a dog collar."

"I'm supposed to return that." Arthur said. Arthur's mother opened the door and peeked out.

Then she closed the door again. She looked at Arthur. She opened the door and looked at the chicken.

"She seems friendly, in a dumb way." He said. "I thought we could name her Henrietta."

"You were supposed to bring home an ordinary chicken to eat," Arthur's mother said. "Not a two-hundred-and-sixty-pound chicken to keep as a pet."

"It was the only one I could find." Arthur said.

Arthur's little brother and sister had been watching all this from behind the kitchen door.

"Please let us keep her!" they shouted. " We'll help Arthur feed her, and walk her, and take good care of her."

"She walks on the leash very nicely." Arthur said. "I can train her, and she can cluck if burglars ever come. She's a good chicken, PLEASE!"

"Put her in the kitchen, and we'll discuss it when your father comes home." Arthur's mother said.

That night the family had meatloaf, and mashed potatoes, and vegetables for Thanksgiving dinner. Everybody thought it was a good meal. Henrietta especially liked the mashed potatoes, although Poppa warned everybody not to feed her from the table. "I don't want this chicken to get into the habit of begging." he said, "And the first time the children forget to feed or walk her -- out she goes."

Poppa had decided to let Arthur keep Henrietta. "Every boy should have a chicken." he said.