The night before we cross-Canada trekkers gained the final member of our group, we sat around Dr. Jim's farmhouse. Adam grilled us hamburgers. Cyclone-haired Dr. Jim talked to us.
He talked about how he noticed that shaven-headed Johnny often had an intense look on his face. He said he could watch Johnny, and Johnny would be deep in thought. He could tell Johnny was very smart.
He went on to say that he liked us three "Johnny's" because there was something good about every one of us. He said, "I like Adam, because he's from the city, but he's good in the country, and he's good on the farm."
"And I like "Johnny" (he was referring to and talking to me here) because you're interesting."
Shoot, I didn't get much of a compliment. Not one for the ol' resume ...
July 1st, Canada Day, was next. Canada Day is the day Canada celebrates its independence. It's a pretty unexciting day, except there are fireworks.
"Oh, my god. Canada Day! I'm so excited for Canada Day, I can't even remember the last time I was this excited!" Adam lied, importantly boosting morale for the day.
I celebrated Canada Day by whipper-snipping - weed-wacking weeds around Dr. Jim's apple trees. Of all the impressive achievements modern technology has made, the whipper-snipping machine is the least impressive. The weed-wacking wire always breaks and is a pain to replace. The darn machine is tough to start. Whipper-snipping with Dr. Jim's stupid machine frustrated me so much I invited Johnny to come by and passed the machine off to him.
Johnny and Adam and I sawed wood and mowed lawn and whipper-snipped for Dr. Jim during the day, and Dr. Jim lent us his van and threw in gas-money so we could go pick up our fourth member in Yarmouth.
During the two-hour drive to Yarmouth, two significant things happened: 1. We picked up a young, bearded hitchhiker. He was a scallop-cleaner at sea, on his way to visit his girlfriend. 2. Adam informed us that Dr. Jim would be bringing us a whole bunch of chickens to slaughter the next morning.
Wow! I was excited to hear we'd be slaughtering chickens. I couldn't even remember the last time I'd been so excited! Visions of slaughtered chickens danced in my head, with their heads cut off, and they became the only thing I could think about.
Da-da-da-da! Arriving on a ferry from Maine, our group's fourth member joined us.
Julie Zollman was her name. I'd seen her around my college before, but Johnny was the only member of our group she knew.
My, our group was adding a fine, young, well-mannered girl. My, Julie Zollman must've thought, and I quote: "I'm joining a bunch of numbskulls."
Julie had just graduated from Eckerd College, like Johnny. Very much un-like Johnny, Julie had never missed a college class (unless she had a sporting event). The entire time she was in college, the only work she turned in late was a professor-evaluation sheet which was optional. Unlike Johnny, she didn't get any D's in college. (Johnny received one D and the rest A's.) Julie's college G.P.A. was 4.0; Johnny's was 3.9. Sound like your average hitchhikers?
Julie had short, dark hair worn up, and a rounded Sesame Street nose. She had a bum knee, from an injury she'd suffered as a college softball outfielder.
We grabbed a vegetarian pizza and drove away with Julie. She explained her passion had long been softball, but if she doesn't become a softball player (I'm not sure there is such an occupation; I just made it up, but it sounds fun), then I guess she'd use her anthropology degree to help development programs or women in third-world countries. She told of being a bridesmaid in a cousin's wedding in hometown St. Louis, which was why she joined us late. She said she was vegetarian.
I said I was going to kill a chicken, the next morning on the farm. There was no turning back now for Julie.
But, she seemed like a tough one, not a complainer. And she could even almost share in my excitement over killing a chicken. And, since I've eaten so many chickens in my lifetime (they taste just like chicken), heck, I owed it to the chickens to chop one of their heads off. (Plus, if I did a good job slaughtering, then I could pick up some "good on the farm" points from Dr. Jim and get a better compliment next time.)
We got back to Dr. Jim's side of the province in time to watch fireworks. We got to Dr. Jim and Loretta's house late and played cards.
Dr. Jim and Adam revealed, then, that the whole story about us slaughtering a bunch of chickens had only been a joke, to see how disgusted the idea of this job would make us city-boys.
Man, I'd been all excited to do that job - to put food on the table, somewhat. I couldn't hide how crushed I was. Dr. Jim responded by saying he'd get a chicken from his mom's farm and have it for me in the afternoon. Everyone else started razzing me and saying I wouldn't have the guts to go through with it.
"I've got my eyes set on killing that chicken tomorrow." I stood tall.
"If your eyes are set on it, we know it's safe!" laughed Loretta. She was referring, of course, to the time they'd seen me go running off after a bunny I couldn't actually see, that damned phantom bunny, and the "Blind Johnny" taunts came out again.
Because I was going to be a chicken-killer, they started also calling me "Chicken Johnny." I was okay with that, until ...
Johnny joked, "I always knew you were a chicken."
Man. I, "Blind Johnny" a.k.a. "Chicken Johnny" a.k.a. "Ol' Insult-Loving Johnny," didn't love insults so much when they were directed at me. Maybe I should've steadied my ax towards the chicken and saved it for some larger "bawk!"ing targets.
The next day, "Chicken Day," was our last on Dr. Jim's farm. We boys returned to our old duties. Julie went to work, hunting insects and picking vegetables in Loretta's organic garden.
Dr. Jim came home from the dentist's office, holding a big sac. I stood beside him, ax in hand, and Dr. Jim gave me slaughtering instructions.
When I opened the sac, I was surprised at how human the red hen looked. It had worried, little housewife eyes; its bill was greedy, lawyer-like; and its crowning roost was proud like a judge. But, I chopped off the thing's head with an ax.
It took me a few strokes. Johnny and Adam and Dr. Jim watched me take my axer's stance at a stump behind a cabin. Dr. Jim didn't want his young daughter to know what was going on.
I laid the chicken's head on the stump. And chopped. And chopped ... And chopped ... The darned head was tough to get off. Blood poured from its neck. Eventually, I got the chicken's head off, but it was pretty gruesome to watch. I think Johnny and Adam had gotten sick and split by then.
The chicken didn't run around with its head chopped off, as people say, probably because the process took me so long. At Dr. Jim's order, I dumped the chicken body in hot water and pulled its many tiny feathers out. I cut a hole in its butt, which released a toxically-strong sh*t-smelling stench. I pulled out its insides, cutting my thumb on the chicken's trachea.
The job wasn't too tough. Some people make a living slaughtering chickens. Other people, I was told, become professional "chicken-catchers" and go around grabbing running chickens in the way that causes the chickens the least stress, so that they can lead stress-free lifes right up until their heads get knocked off.
I showered up, and we Canada-trekkers went to do our final Nova Scotia touring.
We went to the nearby Bay of Fundy. This Canadian bay holds the record for the world's largest tides. The water climbs thirty feet in hours in some places. We went to a broad beach that was completely made up of round rocks: large- or medium-sized and gray. We started a fire and roasted marshmallows.
Seeing as how I'd established myself as the one with the guts to do the harsh jobs, I assumed responsability for thrusting those sharp sticks through the poor, little marshmallows.
I wondered when Dr. Jim was gonna give me my new, brave compliment? I probably would've stood a better chance to get that if it hadn't taken me sixteen strokes to get the chicken's head off.
The Bay of Fundy wasn't the best beach for swimming, but Adam - already in love with the rush of cold water - and I stepped across the stones to the medieval-purple bay. All we could do was flop into the bay, yell "Whoo!" and run out. Adam was proud, and he contested it was the coldest water any of us would meet.
The evening, too, grew cold as we enjoyed the night. Julie, I noticed, wasn't talking a lot. Perhaps she was just a quiet person. Or, perhaps she'd simply labeled me a Chicken-Murderor and hated my guts.
Well, we'd have plenty of time to figure that out.
The next morning, we packed our hitchhiking bags, and Dr. Jim and Loretta drove us down the road to treat us to one last homemade ice cream at Tupperville's Schoolhouse Museum.
The story of our stay in Tupperville wouldn't be complete without mentioning the Schoolhouse Museum. It was on the road between Dr. Jim's house and his apple orchard. So, Johnny and Adam and I would bike up there every day for a break when we just couldn't take the malfunctioning whipper-snipper any more.
22-year-old Kim and 14-year-old Samantha manned the Schoolhouse Museum and made the most delicious, homemade peanut butter ice cream. They loved seeing us during our day. We tried breaking the girls' tendency to talk about perverted topics 95% of the time, but we rarely had prolonged success. They start young in the country.
One of the only things we disliked about Tupperville was the obsession barely-teen-age girls had with sexual comments and conversations. Occasionally, older men, usually drinking, would even make lewd comments towards them. We all, especially Johnny, cringed to see this.
The people of Tupperville, otherwise, had always been nice, always fun, always friendly. Kim and Samantha and Dr. Jim really welcomed us into their country town. We signed the Schoolhouse Museum guest register, on this final day: "We wish we could take the Schoolhouse with us as we hitchhike to Vancouver."
Dr. Jim's Tupperville and those Rolling Stones' nights were gonna be missed ... but, we had a country to cross!
- "Chicken Johnny"
with Johnny, Adam, and Julie
Much thanks to Dr. Jim, Loretta, Jamie, Kelly, Luke, and Kaitlin for the place to stay!
NOTEABLE WILDLIFE SIGHTINGS: one red hen, ready for the eatin'!