E03: Cocksure

33 min read
Momentum: Season 1, Episode 3.

(The content deals with mature subject matter, including sex, drugs, and physical/emotional violence.)

Before We Begin, A Question for You:

Has your body ever sent you a signal that you didn’t want to hear?

October 4. Tillamook, OR.
Day 34.

Chickery Chick

“what do I love?” Jack furrowed his brow like this was the most interesting question he’d been asked in weeks. “Hmm. Well, I love chickens.”

Jordan burst out laughing. “Chickens? Why do you love chickens?”

Jack tilted his head and brought his hand to his chin. “Well, I suppose it’s because of what happened to me when I was about six. My parents owned a farm on an island in the Willamette River, down by the state capital, Salem. One day, we had this big flood. Almost all of our chickens died… except for this one hen that found her way up onto the kitchen table. Now, I have no idea how she got up there, but somehow I got it in my head that I saved that chicken. I named her Chickery Chick, after that old Sammy Kaye foxtrot song from the fifties. Do you know it?”

Jordan shook his head. Immediately, Jack burst out into song:

Oh, Chickery chick, cha-la-cha-la
Check-a-la romey in a banan-ika
Bollika, wollika, can’t you see
Chickery chick is me?

The two men laughed together as they stood on the sidewalk beneath the bright October sun.

“Anyway, I’ve been saving chickens ever since,” Jack continued. “I must have a thousand by now.”

“A thousand chickens?”

“That’s right. I keep them in my house.”

“Wait a second. You have a thousand chickens in your house? How big’s your house?”

“Oh, it’s just a two-bedroom apartment. They’re not real chickens. They’re memorabilia.” Jack fluffed his tail feather. “I’m a chicken collector.”

A chicken collector?

“Can I come to your house?” Jordan asked breathlessly.

Jack seemed taken aback. “You… you want to come to my house?”

“To see your chickens. And to record your Story.”

“Oh… Okay,” Jack stammered. “I guess that’s… fine. Sure, you can come over and photograph my… chickens. My home is… right this way.”

Love stories

the day before, Jordan was in the Tillamook Public Market, searching for a good love story. He asked the organic farmer. He asked the local potter. He asked the woman spinning yarn.

Finally, he asked the woman behind the register at the burger shack. “Ma!” she shouted. “Come over here!”

An older woman with trim grey hair and a bright purple t-shirt emerged from around the corner. “What’s all this fuss?” she said.

The burger shack woman pointed at Jordan. “This guy is walking from Canada to Mexico and he wants to hear your love story!”

“Oh, not that old saw again.” The older woman blushed and resisted half-heartedly.

There was a sushi stand right next to the burger shack, and it turned out that the sushi chef was the burger shack woman’s son. He joined in on the chorus. “Come on, Grandma!” “Come on, Ma! Tell it again!”

The older woman acquiesced. Her name was Chris. Jordan pulled out his phone and hit record.

CHRIS: Ok, well, I was raised in a little town called Menlo, where there wasn’t a lot to do, and my Mom and Dad were both really big in the Grange. This was back in the day when Granges were great. And every fall, they would have what’s called a Hunter’s Ball.  And everybody would dress up in flannel shirts and jeans, and they’d raffle off hunting rifles and have this big dance. It was the Grange, so there was no alcohol or anything like that. 

So, it was my senior year, and I had crawled under the fence over that summer and ripped a hole in the rear end of a pair of cutoffs I had, so I thought it would be really funny if I sewed a big bull’s eye right on the rear end of my cutoffs. Which I did – covered my whole rear end. Why my Mom ever let me out of the house in that getup, I don’t know. But we go to the Hunter’s Ball. Dad is taking tickets and Mom’s working in the kitchen, and here comes in this gentleman who obviously had been doing other parties before he got to the Hunter’s Ball.  He looked over and he spotted that bull’s eye and he said that that was going to be his target for the night. We’ve been married forty-four years now. 

Listen to Chris’ Story.

Chris nailed the punchline. Everyone burst out laughing. She blushed a deeper shade of red. After posing for a picture with her daughter and grandson, she backed away from the food court, disappearing around the corner into the market stalls.

As soon as she was gone, her daughter popped open the cash register and handed a twenty to Jordan. “Thanks for that. She loves telling that one.”

“But I’m not asking for…” Jordan hesitated. A tiny lightbulb went off in his head. “I mean… thank you.”

He slipped the twenty into his pocket.

Chris, her daughter, the burger shack owner, and her grandson, the sushi chef.

The sushi chef’s other grandmother owned a fishing hole across town. He grabbed one of his business cards and scrawled a note on the back: DEAR GRANDMA, I TOLD JORDAN HE COULD CAMP. HE’S GOT A COOL STORY. Jordan took the business card and left the Public Market.

The sun was setting. The sky was cloudless. He was in a good mood as he walked west across town. Tillamook was a picturesque place. The town sat on a flat alluvial plain that was surrounded by spiny hills and squeezed up against a small, brackish bay that connected to the ocean. As he walked along the sidewalk—past a drive-through espresso stand—Jordan heard cows mooing in the distance.

For a small town of just a few thousand people, Tillamook had an outsized reputation in the Pacific Northwest because of its century-old dairy co-op. It was a point of local pride. In those days, you could find Tillamook Cheese products in most grocers throughout the state. Earlier that afternoon, Jordan had toured the local cheese factory, watching white-clad workers move blocks of cheese on conveyer belts. From up high, they looked like mice.

Ten days had passed since Jordan crossed the long Bridge over the Columbia River, and Oregon was growing on him.

The fishing hole was a grassy field squeezed between a pair of rivers, just on the outskirts of town. Jordan strolled down a gravel road, passing a locked green trailer—”LOUIE’S OFFICE”—where a sign told him, “PUT MONEY IN CAN BE RIGHT BACK”. The business card in his pocket felt like a Get Out of Jail Free card, so he continued past the trailer, down the gravel road, toward the confluence of the two rivers, a few hundred yards ahead. The campground was clearly aimed at fishermen: there were no marked campsites, no toilets, no water taps, and no one else there besides Jordan.

He chose a spot far enough from the highway that he felt safe from passing cars and swiftly set up his tent.

The sun set slow, reddish light leaking from behind the round headland to the west. The first stars popped through the periwinkle sky. Darkness encroached over the jagged hills to the east, steadily swallowing the last light until the night was calm, still and a touch chilly.

Jordan secured his food in a yellow neoprene bag, hoping that it was resilience enough to fend off the raccoons. He tossed it a few dozen yards from his tent and walked back through the thick grass, feeling the cool through his camp shoes: a pair of bright yellow foam Crocs.

Unzipping the tent, he slipped inside the small shelter and closed the zipper behind him. Inside, the tent wasn’t much larger than a coffin. Jordan was already thinking about it as his chrysalis.

His mostly empty backpack lay at the foot of his sleeping bag. His extra clothes were balled up as a pillow. His harmonica was in the mesh pocket and Paul’s wine-dark crystal was in his pants pocket, as always.

Easing into his sleeping bag, Jordan flipped on his headlamp and lay on his back. His legs ached from the day’s walking.

But a good ache. An ache that comes with a day of hard work.

A week of walking along the coastline had done Jordan well. Everything felt different since he reached Oregon.

Reaching for his camera bag, Jordan unzipped the side pocket. Of course, Sally’s napkin wasn’t there anymore—it was in ashes by the long Bridge that led into Astoria. A new document had taken its place. It was a newspaper clipping from the Daily Astorian, one of the largest local papers on the Oregon Coast.

The clipping showed a photograph of a bald man in a bright green t-shirt standing proudly in front of the Astoria-Megler Bridge. Jordan brought the image close to his nose, smirking as he examined his own smiling face. “Look at you,” he said out loud. “You’re a public figure now. You’re a personage of importance.”

Once again, he read the article through:

Photographer makes a global connection

The Ear received a heads-up from BIRGIT TALMAN of Hoodsport, Wash., that a remarkable young man, JORDAN BOWER of Toronto, Ontario, pictured above, bottom, was heading for Astoria on foot. On foot? Yes, the 29-year-old photographer is WALKING FROM CANADA TO MEXICO in “an experiment in cross-cultural storytelling.”

“Photography found me, and tapped me on the head, and said, ‘this is what you’ll do,’” Jordan told the Ear. A while ago, he traveled to India and took photos of people and how they live. When he got back to Toronto, he rented the advertising space inside a bus to display the photos as part of a photography festival. The bus exhibit, “What Does it Mean to Be a Human Being,” pictured above, top, attracted a lot of interest.

So now, he’s doing the reverse. When he gets done photographing people and things while walking to Mexico, he’ll travel back to India, where he’ll set up an exhibit of American life and people in a public space. “My goal as a photographer,” Jordan said, “is to establish connections between us as humans by discovering novel ways to break the ice.”

Great idea, but how to fund it? Jordan made a video setting out his goals, put the video online, and wound up with 138 backers and more funding than he asked for. Fifty percent of the donations are from people he knows or “knows somewhat,” and 50 percent are from total strangers or distant friends. A photographer in New Mexico donated $175, and New Balance donated shoes, and will replace them as needed on the journey.

Jordan figures the trek will probably take five months, and walks about 15 miles a day. He’ll stop for a bit in places he finds interesting – like Astoria, for instance. He’s lugging a 40 pound backpack, and does not use a cart, as he wants to walk on beaches as much as possible.

Unlike most of the travelers who pass through Astoria, he is not carrying a laptop or netbook. He has an old-fashioned journal in which he hand-writes his thoughts and observations.

Jordan will turn 30 in a month, and thinks of his 1,800-mile pilgrimage as a rite of passage. “The walk,” he added, “is the outer journey that mirrors the inner journey.” Bon voyage!

His eyes settled on that adjective. “Remarkable,” he repeated. “Re-mark-able,” The word didn’t quite fit his mouth.

Am I remarkable? Is that what I’m walking towards?

That night, he lay awake for hours, terrified by a sound outside of his tent. He was convinced it was the sound of approaching footsteps. Maybe a marauding bear?

It wasn’t. It was just the evening dew weighing heavily on the grass.

Birth of a storyteller

jordan was ten the year his parents separated. That summer, his father began what would become an annual tradition: taking Jordan and his two younger brothers on a road trip through different corners of North America. That first year, they traveled through the Pacific Northwest. Another summer, they drove from Toronto to Cape Cod. A third year, they traveled the coast of California.

These trips were never extravagant affairs. They picked motels out of the American Automobile Association guide and wolfed down McDonald’s Hot Cakes and Sausage for breakfast. They visited National Parks and other roadside tourist attractions, as they tried to figure out how to make their divided family feel whole again.

Dig deep enough into Jordan’s Story and you’d probably point to these trips as the root of his love for travel.

And the root of a couple of other things, too.

On their second Groover Trip, when Jordan was eleven, he flew with his father and his younger brothers to Albuquerque, New Mexico and spent a couple weeks driving through the deserts of the American Southwest. They visited Anasazi villages and lay on top of each other at the monument at Four Corners, with each of their limbs in a different state. In Winslow, Arizona, they stood on a street corner and posed for a photograph, looking out for a girl in a flatbed Ford, for reasons that they could scarcely imagine. They went to Monument Valley, and they fought—a lot.

Jordan’s dad called these vacations “Groover Trips.” He’d borrowed the nickname from Fandango, a Kevin Costner movie from the Eighties about five friends on one last road trip through the Southwest before they faced the responsibilities of manhood. His Dad, a dentist, wore his hair long in the back and rarely went without a ballcap. “I’m never going to get old,” he assured his sons. He also told his sons that, whenever the weather turned bad, it was their mother’s fault.

Jordan’s maternal grandfather came up with a different nickname for Jordan’s father: The Prick.

It was apt, so it stuck.

These Groover Trips were formative for Jordan. They taught him that travel didn’t need to be a pre-determined affair. (His mom’s side of the family preferred vacationing at all-inclusive resorts—or just congregating at his grandparents’ condo in Fort Lauderdale.) And like most of our formative experiences, these trips inspired his sense for what might be possible—his Story about the world.

When he was seventeen, he convinced his parents to send him to a study abroad in Switzerland. Afterward, he backpacked solo through Western Europe. The roots of his love for travel were starting to sprout. At nineteen, Jordan spent the summer after freshman year working and backpacking in Australia. He dyed his hair blond and pierced his eyebrow. At twenty, he spent the summer island hopping from Bali to Bangkok. And at twenty-two, he spent a semester studying at Hong Kong University that was cut short by the emergence of SARS.

By the time he graduated from college, Jordan had seen enough of the world to think in terms of the Universal Similarities Between People.

But Jordan was young, naive and privileged. He came of age at a transformative time for travel: post-9/11 but pre-Internet, when nearly the whole world was accessible but hardly anyone knew about it. He came to see the world as a buffet of experiences just waiting to be collected—and photographed—by him.

He became a purist about travel. He loved to live like the locals lived. He became used to sleeping in flea-bitten hostels, traveling in packed local buses and eating from streetside food stalls. Most of all, he loved connecting with other backpackers—the long-haul itinerant travelers whose lives contrasted so starkly with his friends and family back home. No one was distracted by their cellphones: there weren’t any. You had to queue up for a cyber cafe if you wanted to stay in touch.

Cleaved off from the rest of the world, isolated from past and future, subsumed in the needs of the present moment, backpackers existed in a hermetically sealed bubble that encouraged creativity and experimentation with identity.

If you’d asked Jordan how he identified, he would have said: “traveler.”

Traveling helped Jordan feel free.

After graduation, Jordan took a job in the travel industry—letting him keep one foot in Toronto and the other on the road. He worked, he saved money, he lived a normal-enough life. But his eyes were focused on a crowning jewel: India.

He’d heard about India from other backpackers in cafés and hostels around the world. They spoke about in the same hushed tones that might hover around the presence of a celebrity tarnished by scandal. “It’s horrible.” “It’s incredible.” “My friend said that…”

Traveling to India was the backpacker’s badge of honor, and Jordan wanted to experience it for himself.

“The best thing about India,” an Israeli backpacker told him on a beach in Thailand, “is the hash. It’s everywhere.

Jordan desperately wanted to experience that, too.

But he knew that going to India would take time. It wasn’t the kind of place you could hurry through on a two-week vacation. It required months—maybe even years. Each time he thought of India, he dreamed of exploring, adventuring, living in a liminal state of spiritual (or stoned) bliss, leaving the worries and burdens of his home life far, far behind.

But there was one worry that he didn’t know how to leave behind: his girlfriend. Jordan had been dating the same girl for nearly six years. They’d met on the very first day of his sophomore year in college and had been inseparable ever since. In Jordan’s mind, this girl felt like a wife. But her vision of travel was much less adventurous than his. She preferred two weeks in Paris, not two months living in backpacker paradises.

Jordan tried to overlook this. His girlfriend was accepting, tolerant, kind, funny, intelligent and beautiful. She was everything that Jordan knew that he should want. When Jordan went to Indonesia or Vietnam or New Zealand, she dutifully emailed him from home, enjoying all of his experiences and adventures vicariously.

He knew that she wanted to spend the rest of her life with him. And he could see the rest of his life with her. That was terrifying.

“I want to travel forever,” he told his girlfriend. “I’m never going to get old,”

After six years together, the shtick was getting old for both of them.

Plus Jordan had a secret. A little secret. A tiny secret. Okay, a really, really big secret. The summer after sophomore year, he’d gone to Southeast Asia while his girlfriend stayed at home. A few days after arriving in Bali, Jordan met a young, blonde Englishwoman at a bar—a girl who, in retrospect, looked a lot like his future girlfriend, Sally. They ended up on the pool lounger behind his hotel, fucking like bunnies, while the Balinese security guards hid behind the hedges.

Sex with his girlfriend had always been sweet, loving, caring and attentive. But sex with the blonde Englishwoman was fucking fantastic. Jordan had performed so well that his first instinct after his orgasm was to call his girlfriend and gush to her about how many times the Englishwoman had come—as if his girlfriend would be proud of him.

Of course, he didn’t, because the soul-sucking guilt set in in the very next moment. Jordan was overwhelmed by regret and shame. His mother’s advice was straightforward: keep it a secret. So Jordan did. He never told his girlfriend about that infidelity.

He never told her about the ones that came next either.

By his mid-twenties, the tensions inside of him were pulling him taut. He wanted a happy future with his beloved girlfriend, but he also wanted a life full of adventure. He wanted to tell his girlfriend the truth, but he knew that if he told her the truth she would break up with him.

How could he hold these paradoxical elements in balance?

There were other factors at play, too: his parents’ expectations, his business school friends’ progress. He was daunted by the inevitability of turning thirty, and he was convinced that he was wasting the prime of his life by staying in a loving, stable, monogamous relationship, rather than seeing the world and fucking a busload of blonde Englishwomen.

On the verge of his twenty-sixth birthday, Jordan’s life felt like a straitjacket, and travel—India!—seemed like the only escape.

It was destined to blow up. And it did. This was the dawn of Jordan’s Quarter Life Crisis

Dawn over Tillamook.

A remarkable young man?

the sound of a truck engine. Jordan’s eyes popped open. He lunged out of his sleeping bag, groping for the tent zipper in the pitch darkness. He could hear the sound of gravel crackling beneath a set of tires, and he wanted to face his assailant head-on.

The moment he opened his tent, he was illuminated by high beams. He froze. But then the headlights swung to the left. The pickup rumbled by, continuing along the gravel track toward the confluence of the two rivers. It pulled to a stop, and a pair of fishermen hopped out, unloading wood next to a metal fire ring.

Soon, a steady column of smoke was rising in the still pre-dawn light.

Diamonds sparkled on the grass: the first frost of the season. Jordan tumbled back into his sleeping bag. He lay with the tent door open, watching the sky slowly brighten, and thought about the love story he’d collected in the Public Market the previous evening. He’d only started collecting love stories a few days earlier, but already it had given his journey a new kind of direction. People were eager to talk to him. He’d found a shtick. And he had a purpose that transcended simply hurrying down the coast.

As the sun rose beyond the hills, Jordan boiled water for his morning tea and oatmeal. He lingered in his sleeping bag, reading and writing in his journal. Though he knew that the winter was only weeks away—and that the rain would inevitably slow his progress—he decided that there was no use worrying too much about the winter. That was Future Jordan’s problem.

By the time he tore down camp, it was well past nine o’clock, and the sun was hot and gorgeous.

Jordan left the campground along the gravel track. When he reached the highway, he hesitated. Turning right would take him over the hills and back to the coast. But yesterday, he’d walked past a drive-through espresso stand on his way out of Tillamook and he was eager to brighten up with an americano. So he turned left and walked on the sidewalk into town.

This would turn out to be an extremely consequential decision.

Right in front of the drive-through espresso stand, he started a conversation with an older man named Jack.

“What do I love?” Jack furrowed his brow like this was the most interesting question he’d been asked in weeks. “Hmm. Well, I love chickens.”

Jordan burst out laughing. “Chickens? Why do you love chickens?”

Jack tilted his head and brought his hand to his chin. “Well, I suppose it’s because of what happened to me when I was about six. My parents owned a farm on an island in the Willamette River, down by the state capital, Salem. One day, we had this big flood. Almost all of our chickens died… except for this one hen that found her way up onto the kitchen table. Now, I have no idea how she got up there, but somehow I got it in my head that I saved that chicken. I named her Chickery Chick, after that old Sammy Kaye foxtrot song from the fifties. Do you know it?”

Jordan shook his head. Immediately, Jack burst out into song:

Oh, Chickery chick, cha-la-cha-la
Check-a-la romey in a banan-ika
Bollika, wollika, can’t you see
Chickery chick is me?

They laughed together as they stood on the sidewalk.

“You… you want to come to my house?”

“To see your chickens. And to record your Story.”

“Oh…Okay,” Jack stammered. “I guess that’s… fine. Sure, you can come over and… photograph my chickens. My home is… right this way.”

Jack the Chicken Man

Jack the Chicken Man

they weren’t exactly chickens in Jack’s apartment. Sure, there were a few hens and a handful of chicks. But mostly, they were roosters.

Okay, they were cocks.

Jack’s two-bedroom apartment was full of cocks.

Cocks on the coat rack where Jordan hung up his jacket. Cocks on the umbrella stand beside his backpack. Cocks in frames, hung on the wall, lining the way down a short entrance hallway toward an eight-foot display case that was jammed to the hilt with cocks.

Crystal cocks, porcelain cocks. Clay cocks, wooden cocks. Big cocks, little cocks; cocks of all shapes and sizes.

“You really like roosters,” said Jordan.

Jack shrugged. “I’m a bit of an addict.”

Cocks all over the small, farmhouse-style kitchen, with wooden cupboards and Formica countertops. High up on the cream-colored walls, there were a dozen decorative plates, each one depicting a Rockwellian pastoral scene—every one prominently featuring a cock. Cocks on the hand towels, the tea cozy, the oven mitts, the sugar container, the fridge magnets, the soap dispenser, the rug in front of the sink. Cocks on the salt and pepper shakers, the light switch, the placemats, the bottle opener. A different cock on each of the serving spoons.

Jack took a bowl from the cupboard and covered the henhouse on the bottom with a heaping serving of granola. He topped it with a spoonful of yogurt—“Tillamook makes the best quality in the country,” he bragged—then sliced a fresh peach on a cutting board, using a knife with a cartoonish cock on the handle.

Handing the bowl to Jordan, Jack led the way into the adjacent sitting room.

This room was also similarly themed. Cocks everywhere. But there were plenty of other decorations among the cocks. Jack gestured toward the loveseat. (Four cocks on pillows; a cock on the quilted throw.) “Why don’t you sit here? I need to make a phone call.”

Jordan obliged. He sat at the edge of the loveseat, cheerfully eating his granola, as he took in the room, digesting the absurdity of this strange man’s life. A wrought-iron cock stood beside the sliding door that led to the garden; a leggy Foghorn Leghorn was on the clock hung on the wall.

But then Jordan’s eyes settled on the family photographs. Atop the TV was a portrait of an elderly woman. She had the same prominent beak as Jack. Another portrait showed a handsome Jack-like soldier in uniform right in front of the Stars and Stripes.

Directly below that portrait, there was a recent picture of a grandfatherly Jack surrounded by a young family and his grandchildren. He wore a big smile, looking every bit the proud patriarch.

That’s funny. He’s got kids. Jordan chewed contemplatively. And there’s some kind of Church of Latter-Day Saint’s document on the wall. Jack’s a Mormon! I guess he’s not gay after all.

Then, he heard Jack’s voice from the kitchen.

“Hello, pastor? You told me I should call you if something like this ever happened.”

Jack’s bedroom was filled with cocks.

Heading for the not-entirely-unpredictable conclusion

“look at them all,” Jack said, flopping his arms in the air and taking a sweeping look around his bedroom. “They’re everywhere. Rooster pillows. Lamp roosters. A blanket down here. I have a hen sitting on a basket down there. Roosters!” He put his hands on his hips and shook his head slowly. “Roosters, rooster, roosters. It’s crazy. It’s just crazy.”

He slid open the mirrored closet door. Inside, boxes upon boxes of egg plates. “My mother gave me my very first one.” Jack pulled a Christmas-themed egg plate from one of the boxes and posed for Jordan’s camera, displaying a tense, thin smile. “I thought, well, that’s pretty cool. So then I started looking around the computer. That was a mistake. Now I have two hundred and fifty of them.”

“Where do all the roosters come from?” Jordan was squeezing his camera tightly. He was standing defensively at the threshold of Jack’s bedroom, afraid to step in.

“There’s a collectibles group. They send catalogs out. And I’m a sucker because they’ll call me up… Andrew is the fellow’s name. He’ll say, ‘Jack, we have another rooster.'” Jack cleared his throat awkwardly. “He says, ‘why don’t you let me send it to you? If you don’t like it, you can just send it back.’ Well, guess what, I don’t send them back. That’s my demise. I… I… I really should do that a little more. Um, yeah.”

“They only need to send you the chicken section,” Jordan said helpfully.

“Haha,” Jack deadpanned. He nodded toward a pile of catalogs on the bedside table and let out a long, lonely sigh. Jordan couldn’t help noticing the Vaseline nearby. “Look at them over there. Tempting me.

An awkward silence permeated the room. Jordan could feel butterflies fluttering in his chest. But he tried to calm himself down.

Jack’s just a lonely old man. He probably never gets to tell anyone his Story. I’m doing him a service by being here.

He reached into his pocket for Paul’s crystal, as Jack squatted down to pick up one of the biggest boxes. It was white and about the size of a microwave. He stood up and turned toward Jordan. “Should I open it here or…”

“Back in the sitting room.”

“Back in the sitting room,” Jack repeated. He took a step toward Jordan. Jordan took a step backward, removing himself from the threshold to the bedroom.

Back in the sitting room, Jordan returned to his position at the edge of the loveseat. Jack settled into an easy chair and hefted the white box onto his lap. “Let’s see what we have in here. This here is meant to be a soup tureen. Or something like that to put on the table.”

Wrapping paper rustled as Jack fished into the box for the cock.

The soup tureen was white, ceramic and about the size of a basketball. It was sliced horizontally into two pieces. It was intended to be a lifelike representation of a rooster. But as soon as Jack pulled it from the box, his whole body seemed to deflate like a balloon. “Oh, no,” he clucked. “Ohhhhh, no.”

“What’s wrong?”

“It’s not like the picture,” Jack said weakly. He hefted the cock in front of his body. “See, look at this view here.” He pointed the cock so that Jordan was looking at it head-on. “From the standpoint of looking at him directly from the front, it’s fine, but when you look at him from the side”—Jack twisted the cock so that it was in profile—”do you see what’s happened to his legs?”

The cock’s feet were on the edge of a cylindrical pedestal. “His legs are splayed,” said Jordan.

“That’s right.”

“It looks like he’s straddling something.”

As soon as he said that, Jordan froze. He couldn’t believe those words had spilled out of his mouth. “It’s like he’s on the toilet,” he said, trying to save himself. That didn’t work either.

Jack didn’t appear to notice. He put the tureen back into its box. “It’s really not the best quality,” he complained. “There was another one like this. I called them up and told them, ‘hey, you guys really need to do better with your pictures of this.’ They said I could send it back. Of course, I kept it.” He sighed as he placed the box on the floor next to the easy chair. “This one was nearly two hundred dollars and I don’t even like it.” He glanced up at Jordan. “Am I dumb?”

“No!” Jordan lied. “You’re just passionate. Remarkably passionate.”

With his long face, Jack didn’t seem remarkably passionate. “I’m paying storage on roosters,” he moaned. “That’s where this one is heading, too.”

A brief but relevant diversion

two months after his relationship with his first girlfriend disintegrated, Jordan was finally in India. The experience was everything he’d imagined and much, much more. Newly single and positively rich, once you accounted for the currency exchange, Jordan tried to soak in all of the subcontinent at once. He wanted to taste everything.

For all he knew, this Quarter Life Crisis might be his last time on the road. He thought there was a good chance that, when he returned to Toronto, he’d get back together with his girlfriend and resume their journey on the beaten-down trail toward his domesticated life.

He tried not to think about what he’d done at the end of his relationship. That, too, was Future Jordan’s problem.

Future Jordan was accruing more problems every day.

Jordan ended up spending six months traveling around India. He took a lot of pictures, he smoked a lot of hash and he had a lot of sex with strangers. When he returned to Canada—deeply tanned and a newly converted vegetarian—he told friends and family that he was completely transformed. But the mess he’d created was lying exactly where he’d left it.

He was shocked when his ex-girlfriend wouldn’t jump right back into bed with him. He was doubly shocked when the girl he’d left her for wouldn’t jump into bed with him either. His friends had only a passing interest in hearing about India. They had even less interest in his rants about vegetarianism.

The shine of the journey wore off quickly. Soon, he was mired in the worst depression of his life.

His chickens had come home to roost.

There seemed to be just one solution. But returning to India seemed like a direct refutation of the Rules that had governed his life. Sure, one Quarter Life Crisis was justifiable. But two? What would that mean for his career? What would that mean for his future? What would that mean for his still-fading sense of obligation to get back together with his girlfriend?

There was no one around him whose advice he could trust. His parents were united for what seemed like the first time since their divorce: Jordan should get a job. All of his friends—managers, consultants, lawyers and investment bankers—agreed: Jordan should get a job. But Jordan didn’t want to get a job. He wanted… something. Something that he couldn’t even find the words to express.

He felt silly and decadent, longing for something bigger and transcendent. He felt naive. He felt privileged.

That winter, in the darkest days of his depression, he was introduced to an older man named Paul. Paul was a successful producer and film director. He lived in a mansion on Lake Ontario. He’d been to India about fifty times, and he took Jordan under his wing.

A few months later, Jordan was back in India.

The 2008 National Flying Disc Championship (Senior) in Ahmedabad, India.

To justify returning to India, Jordan knew he needed an excuse. He knew he shouldn’t waste another six months chasing girls and getting stoned—even though that was exactly what he wanted. So he turned to the Internet.

An inspired Google search for “India + ultimate frisbee” led Jordan to the website of an Indian-based development organization that was running a program using Jordan’s favorite game to teach life skills to impoverished children living in India’s urban slums. Jordan crafted an impassioned email, practically begging the organization to become a volunteer.

When he returned to India, he was carrying a duffel bag full of Frisbees.

A million miles from Canada, Jordan finally felt like himself again.

He’d arrived a few weeks before his volunteer program’s start date. Ditching the Frisbees at the organization’s office, he hopped on a packed local bus and traveled overnight to a provincial capital on the edge of the salt deserts that abutted the Pakistani border. In the provincial capital, he hired a 50cc scooter and sped out into the hinterland. He had no map, no guide and no ambition besides taking interesting pictures and having an adventure. That was exactly what he found.

Over the next seven days, Jordan had an adventure that was wilder than anything he’d ever experienced. He visited a religious festival where he danced with a hundred thousand Sufi revelers. He slept in a village of mud huts peopled by women in exquisitely patterned garments. He smoked hashish with dreadlocked, orange-clad Hindu ascetics. And he was briefly detained by the Indian army after mistakenly wandering over the border.

During that week, Jordan didn’t see another foreign traveler. He hardly met anyone who spoke any English. But he was taken by the Universal Similarities Between People.

Every experience was a revelation. And the photographs seemed truly remarkable.

Then, on the last day of that trip, he was speeding back to the provincial capital on his rented scooter. Suddenly, two stray dogs darted out of the scrubby brush by the side of the road. They were darting just a few feet in front of his front wheel.

Jordan squeezed both handbrakes, just narrowly avoiding hitting the dogs. But the wheels seized, and the scooter went skidding on the asphalt.

Next thing Jordan knew, he was laying on his back and looking up at the cloudless sky.

His first thought was: I’m glad that my mom told me to wear my helmet.

Immediately, he leaped to his feet. All of his body parts seemed to be functioning fine. He couldn’t believe that nothing was broken. But he had only been wearing shorts and a t-shirt, and he could see his skin atop the hot blacktop.

Blood gushed down the inside of his arm. He gasped and retched, as he saw the open wound on the inside of his elbow. It was hardly life-threatening, but it was gruesome. Overwhelmed by the shock, Jordan didn’t have the presence of mind to move his scooter from the middle of the roadway. He stumbled to the shade by the side of the road and sat there, breathing heavily. Finally, after a few minutes spent hyperventilating beneath an acacia tree, an oncoming vehicle screeched to a stop, and three men got out. They swarmed around Jordan and assessed his injuries.

None of the men spoke English. Jordan didn’t speak any Gujarati, the local language, besides “hello” and “I’m fine, thanks.” But with a little sign language andthe universal word “dok-tor”, he understood that these men were going to take him to a nearby medical clinic. One of the men was going to follow behind on his scraped-but-still-functioning scooter.

In a daze, Jordan allowed himself to be guided into the back of the vehicle. But when he got into the backseat, he started to panic.

Who are these guys? Can I trust them? I gave my passport as collateral. What if this guy steals the scooter?

Suddenly, Jordan started to weep.

Waves upon waves of emotions began to course through his body. There was so much to feel. It was like the accident had flipped a switch inside of him, and twenty-seven years of repressed emotions were suddenly and dramatically released. He was crying about his girlfriend and his infidelities. He was crying about his parents and the divorce. He was crying because he’d fucked up, he was crying because he’d survived, he was crying about the total uncertainty about his future. Snot waterfalled down his face and splattered on the floor mat. And in his head, he could hear a voice screaming:


And on and on and on. This felt like it went on for minutes.

Suddenly, another voice came piercing through the panic—a voice that was the complete opposite to the one throwing a screaming fit. Jordan had never heard a voice like this before coming from inside of him. It was calm and patient. It was even good-humored. Though it was disembodied, he was sure he could hear it smile—which was a fucked up thing to think about a voice in one’s own head.

It said, simply, “Calm down. Everything’s going to be fine.”

Everything did not seem fine to Jordan.


He could have sworn he heard the voice laugh—which was even stranger than hearing it smile. “You’re going to be fine,” it repeated. “You’re in one piece. There’s no problem. Everything’s okay.”


“Take a couple of deep breaths. The doctor’s going to fix you up. Drink a chai. You can worry about the rest later.”

Whoever that was, whatever flaws in its logic, the voice worked. Jordan stopped crying and wiped away the snot. The men arrived at the medical clinic, and after some clean-up with rubbing alcohol, he was nearly as good as new.

He drank a chai. He got back on his scooter again. He handed over a hundred bucks and collected his passport without an issue. A few hours later, he was back on a bus, on his way to start his Frisbee volunteer program.

Afterward, he tried not to think about that experience very much. But it stuck with him. Not just the words. The feeling.

Anyway. Back to Jack the Chicken Man.

The entirely unpredictable conclusion

jordan had been at Jack’s apartment for the better part of an hour. He’d photographed all the cocks. He’d listened as Jack told the Story about the flood again. Only this time it lacked the gusto from back on the sidewalk. There was no Chickery Chick. No cha-la, cha-la. Jack seemed off of his game. The lighthearted man that Jordan had laughed with on the street seemed to have completely disappeared.

And Jordan was convinced that it was somehow all his fault.

He tried to shift the tone of the interview. He asked Jack about his children. “I’ve got six,” he sighed. “I love them all very much.” He asked Jack about the portrait of the elderly woman atop the TV. “That’s my mother.” Jack made a kissing sound. “Hi Mom. Love you. I can always feel you watching me.”

Jordan was swiftly running out of questions, but he wasn’t yet convinced that he had found the Story he was looking for.

Then, out of the blue, Jack said the D-word.


“How long have you been divorced?”

Jack scratched his neck. “Well, I was married about twelve years and…”

“That’s as long as my parents were married too!” Jordan interrupted. “In terms of your opinion on marriage, would you recommend it to someone my age?”

Jack scratched his head. “Well, I suppose that it depends on the individual. I prefer to focus on the upside of my life as opposed to the other stuff.”

“The roosters being the happy part?”

“And my kids. My job. I love my job. And the church that I go to.” Jack looked Jordan in his eyes. Something about the expression made Jordan’s stomach turn. “But I suppose I can tell you about the other stuff too. If you’re curious.”

Suddenly, Jordan heard a voice that said:


He ignored it. “Sure. I’d love to hear it.”

The ceiling felt like it immediately dropped by a foot. Jack licked his lips. He crossed one leg over the other. Then, he shifted positions and crossed the second leg over the first. He told Jordan that, when he was in his fifties, he used to work for a big company based in Salem.

His voice had fallen into a monotone. Jordan couldn’t understand why. He had no idea where this Story was going.

“One day, I was driving on the Interstate when I picked up a hitchhiker,” Jack said. “He offered me one of those…” He paused. “What do you call those marijuana cigarette thingies again?”

Jordan made a face. “Do you mean a joint?”

Jack’s whole body seemed to ooze into the pillows of the easy chair. “That’s right. A joint. The first time I smoked one of those… joints, I didn’t feel anything. I guess that stuff just didn’t work on someone like me.” He paused. The butterflies in Jordan’s belly had risen into his chest. “A couple weeks went by. I was out on the Interstate when I picked up another hitchhiker who also had one of those… joints. But this time again, nothing happened. But the third time I met a hitchhiker with a joint, we ended up in bed together.” Jack shrugged. “Pretty soon, I was going to bed with hitchhikers all the time.”

Jordan’s voice shot up three octaves. “Were they women or men?”

Jack sighed. “Mostly men.”

Jordan froze. He glanced up toward the framed Mormon document over Jack’s shoulder and caught his own reflection in the glass:

Oh my God. I’m Jack’s kryptonite.

Jack’s Story started dark and quickly got darker. In his steady monotone, he told Jordan how his wife had left him once she found out about the hitchhikers. Not long after that, Jack went on a business trip to the Midwest, where he met another man who also liked to smoke marijuana. Like him, this other man was also publicly straight. They began a romance.

“He wanted to keep our relationship a secret,” Jack said. “I loved him. I loved him with my whole heart, even though he used to beat me within inches of my life.”


“Uh-huh,” said Jordan. “Wow. I’m really sorry. That sounds really… hard.”

He saw Jack lip his lips again.


Jordan swallowed slowly. He tried not to give his discomfort away. He thought about how he could reach for the crystal in his pocket without looking obvious. Taking a long, slow breath—but not breaking eye contact with Jack—he assessed the room. It was less than ten feet to the sliding door that led out to the garden. The bright sun was pouring through the glass. He could be outside in less than five seconds. He tried to see whether the sliding door was locked.

But my stuff is at the front door. If I run, I’ll leave everything behind. My trip is going to be over.

Getting to the front door meant passing directly by Jack. For the very first time, it dawned on him that Jack might have a weapon.

The ceiling dropped another foot. Jordan could feel his heart thudding in his neck. He took another long, slow breath. He tried to control his emotions.


The expression in Jack’s eyes made him want to vomit.

“Did you stay with him long?” Jordan asked.

“A few years,” Jack shrugged. “I moved to the Midwest. He didn’t want to leave his wife, so he put me up in an apartment on Skid Row. I started taking other drugs. Meth. Crack. I was completely addicted to him.” They hadn’t broken eye contact for five minutes. Jordan was terrified to look away. He was sure that the moment he gave away how he was really feeling, Jack was going to attack him. “I would do anything to get high. Anything.” Jack licked his lips. “And what they say is true: the thicker, the harder, the better.”


Jordan took a deep breath. His whole body was shaking. But he tried to think soberly, despite the screaming in his head.

Why am I making such a big deal? I should feel compassion for this sad, lonely man. Paul would feel compassion. They’d already be best friends. Paul would have already found a great Story out of this guy. I need to act more like Paul.

He held Jack’s eye contact. He tried to smile. But there was something else that was distracting Jordan. It was a strange sensation that he’d never felt before. A sensation that was centered square in his… well… in his cock.

His cock was pulsing wildly. It was like an earthquake radiating from his groin and flowing through the rest of his body.


The corners of Jack’s lip quivered. “Are you okay?” he said. “Your face is white.” He paused. “Do you want to take a shower?”

Jordan shook his head violently.

Jack uncrossed his legs, Sharon Stone-style, and spread his thighs apart. He tilted his hips forward obviously.

Jordan’s eyes shot to the crotch of Jack’s blue jeans.


The corners of Jack’s lips creased into a smile. He spread his thighs a couple inches wider and tilted his hips even more obviously. Jordan’s eyes shot back to Jack’s crotch again like they were magnetized.


“Are you sure you don’t want to take a shower? My shower has excellent water pressure. And I’ve got very… very fluffy towels.”

Jordan shook his head wildly again.

Jack looked him squarely in the eye. “Say. You don’t happen to have any marijuana. Do you?”

Jordan shook his head so hard that he felt like it was going to fly right off and end up in one of Jack’s henhouses.

Jack picked up the Story again, but his Story no longer seemed like an accurate representation of what was really going on. Jack talked about his mother getting sick, about moving back to Tillamook to care for her, about how she helped him find forgiveness through the church, and about how he moved into her apartment once she passed. He looked at the portrait and blew a kiss again. All the while, Jordan felt like his body had been possessed by a demon. The pulsing in his crotch was threatening to register on the Richter scale. He couldn’t understand what was happening. Jordan wasn’t gay. Sure, his friends often teased him about being gay because he was so sensitive and emotional. But he’d never had more than a passing curiosity about what it would be like to be with a man.

And if I was with a man, it probably wouldn’t be an ugly older man like Jack. He’s almost the same age as Paul.


Jordan felt himself being pulled in two directions at once. He thought about the sliding door. He thought about overpowering Jack. He might even be able to get out the front door if Jack had a weapon. But he could feel his resolve weakening. It felt like someone had hammered an immense nail directly into the crown of his head, traveling down through his spinal column and affixing him to the cushion of the loveseat. The idea of getting to his feet seemed impossible.

Inside, he was like a hurricane. His mind’s eye was overwhelmed by a panoply of pornography. Breasts, bellies, asses and pussies. Reverse cowgirl. Doggystyle. Two girls getting fucked at once—the thicker, the harder, the better. He couldn’t understand what was going on. He was pretty sure he was hard, but he didn’t dare touch himself to check. Jack had stopped speaking and was simply staring at him.

The corner of Jack’s lip twitched yet again. Jordan’s palate was dry. The room was silent besides the ticking of the clock.

run, jordan. run now. this is your last chance i warned you.

He could hear his inner voice weakening. Suddenly, Jordan realized that he was defeated. He wasn’t going to run. He wasn’t capable of running. He could see that there was just one way out of his situation. The butterflies had climbed into his throat as the solution dawned on him.

Jack spread his thighs even wider.

Jordan sighed. He knew what he was going to have to do.

Pussies and tits and cocks and orgies and sex sex sex! Jordan had seen this on-screen a thousand times. He had just never figured that he’d be the one in that position. But he knew enough to understand how it was going to go down.

Which one of us will stand up first? Will he have roosters on his underwear? Do I go to him or will he come to me? Maybe it won’t be as bad as I think. Maybe I’ll even like it. Will I want him to reciprocate?

The pulsing was so intense that Jordan felt drunk on his own powerlessness. He just wanted it to happen. He just needed it to happen right now.

What’s it going to be like when I get on my knees close my eyes open my mouth and Jack…


The knock at the front door made Jordan jump ten inches off the loveseat. When he landed, he froze and looked across to Jack. Jack’s expression had changed completely. He was frozen too. He was also in a state of shock.


“Hullo, Jack? Are you in there?”

Jack closed his eyes. He took a long, deep breath. As he rose from his easy chair, he paused and took a long look at Jordan but didn’t say anything. Then, he disappeared around the hallway to reach the front door.

As soon as Jack was out of the room, Jordan leaped to his feet.

The sliding door to the garden? But what about my pack at the front door? Who could it be? Did Jack call for reinforcements?

His body was pulling him in two directions at once. And the voice in his head had resumed with new force:


But Jordan couldn’t run. If he ran, his trip would be over. If he ran, the dragon wouldn’t get slayed.

So he froze. He craned his head toward the door and listened in terror.

There were two voices at the front door. They were both men. They greeted Jack familiarly. By the tone of Jack’s voice, Jordan could tell he was trying to get rid of them. By the tone of the two men’s voices, Jordan could tell that they weren’t going anywhere.

“Sure, boys,” Jack said finally. “Why don’t you come inside?”

Every cell in Jordan’s body was in its own individual fight-or-flight. His whole being was a biological clusterfuck. But when the three men rounded the corner, Jordan couldn’t help ejaculating with laughter.

They were two young men dressed in matching outfits. White short-sleeve button-downs, black slacks, black ties and black name badges that read: Elder Smith and Elder Miller.

They were a pair of twenty-one-year-old Mormon missionaries.

I don’t fucking believe it. I’ve just been saved by the Mormon FBI!

Jordan had never believed in the divine as intensely as in that moment.

The missionaries looked at Jordan. Jordan looked at Jack. Jack was looking at the Foghorn Leghorn clock on the wall. 

“Hi,” said one. “And you are?”

“Jordan… Walking to… Re-mark-able.”

Grabbing for his camera bag, Jordan pulled out the article from the Daily Astorian and shoved it into one of the missionary’s hands. The young man read it over slowly. Suddenly, Jack’s sitting room had completely transformed. The ceiling had lifted. The spell had passed. Everything seemed perfectly normal. The pulsing was mercifully gone, and as Jordan stood there in a daze, he couldn’t help wondering:

Did I imagine that whole thing?


Another knock at the door. A moment later, two more missionaries were in Jack’s sitting room.

Later, Jordan reasoned that Jack’s pastor must have dispatched the missionaries after Jack’s desperate phone call. But in the moment, the presence of the missionaries felt miraculous. Jordan was incredulous. So was Jack. The sitting room was a delirium of frenetic energy as Jack made tea and the four missionaries gabbed, completely oblivious to what had been happening just a few minutes earlier.

Finally, Jordan announced that he was ready to go. The five men escorted him to the front door, crowding around him as he secured his backpack.

“Oh, I’ve almost forgotten,” said Jack. “How rude of me not to offer. Can I give you a Book of Mormon for the road?

Fuck off, you Prick!

When Jordan looked at him, something passed between the two of them that he could barely understand.

Jordan shook his head and turned toward the door. As he did, the Mormons said, in unison, “Bless that we will travel home in safety!”

Without looking over his shoulder, Jordan hurried out into the blinding sunlight.

How Jordan felt on the way out of Tillamook.

Now, A Question for You:

Has your body ever sent you a signal that you didn’t want to hear?