If there was a sound who’s contours have remained nearly perfectly etched into my adult brain despite over two decades of absence, it was the clucking of a giant, mechanical chicken that lived in a glass box in a local sporting goods store.
In the two-floor emporium of guns (and even a shooting range), fishing gear, canning supplies, workwear, and other useful tools for country-livin’, there was a big plastic hen surveying the top floor from a glass cage.
Bob’s Sporting Goods was (and still is) full of useful outdoorsy stuff, and especially before the rise of Walmart, it was pretty much the go-to for all things outdoorsy or cloth-y. Many a vague memory do I have of going with my father while he shopped for, I don’t know, a Leatherman while I unconsciously observed the cry of the Hen, like some kind of redneck muezzin. The timetable that caused Robo-Hen to cackle was pretty random, I think. Like a real animal, it was subject to it’s own rules of governance that we can only guess at. My memories of wandering amidst the camouflage coral-reef of waders and hunting jackets are all colored with country music interspersed with the mechanized, shrill call.
Lady Hen was at home in a small toy section on the top floor. She roosted from her glass case amongst the myriad dart guns, slimy slapper things, twirling helicopters, and the General Infantry, Joe, a soldier who has probably had as many deaths as there have been real deaths in war. She was the queen of all toys.
Interestingly, I have very few memories of actually seeing El Pollo Robotico. I only recall her voice.
But as these things go, one day I woke up and I was an adult and I’d experimented with drugs, I’d gone to college, I had a serious girlfriend, I stopped experimenting with drugs, I did some traveling, and I came home. I was older now, and Robochikky was gone. She had silently exited my life. I visited Bob’s to try and find her a few years ago, but as is the way with the fluidity of memory, I couldn’t quite remember where her cage had been. The muezzin had retired, flown away. Bob’s was quieter, though still seemed to do a good business. There would always be a market for camouflage pants and Carhartts in Longview. There would not, apparently, always be a market for being sonically assaulted by faux mega-birds. Her clucking remained indelibly perched in my brain, though.
Now Bob’s carries on, decidedly poorer for the absence of Faux-ltry. How long can Bob’s live without a giant fake chicken? Maybe a long time, or maybe it’s on the verge of collapse. I would guess that Henny was responsible for most of, if not all of Bob’s profits, so I would think that the decision to remove her was the beginning of the end.
The Talons of Memory
I was in the market for a 1-gallon jar for a home brewing project and I paid Bob’s a visit. Despite the fact that their Robot Bird section was now empty, they had a small annex-building that sold home goods. The main store of Bob’s was a castle of manly guns, the cottage was the purview of the domestically-inclined. As a parsed through what, to me, felt like an over-abundance of different sizes and styles of jars, I passed through an archway and saw a large chicken sitting proudly inside a glass case.
Remingtina had flown home.
In being reacquainted with one of the horcruxes of my childhood, I felt waves of excitement sloshing around inside me. She appeared healthy, ageless, albeit slightly smaller than I recalled. She was positioned over a mighty clutch of eggs. The description of how to “play” was written on the glass:
“Insert Coin-hear hen cackle!
Watch hen lay gift egg!
Toy in every egg!
2 gifts in gold egg!”
As I read through the clearly English as a second language “game” description, I was sort of surprised. My memories had fairly exclusively been a clucking hen in a box, bock-bock-bocking for no real reason, and the quarter slot and egg-drop (with toy!) aspects had basically been pruned-off over the last twenty years. Probably because I spent infinitely more time just hearing HennyBot from distant corners of Bob’s and much less time actually beholding her, I just sort of remembered her as a free and wild bird, clucking as it suited her.
I asked my mom for a quarter, as I didn’t have one (very fitting) and The Great Hen began to call.
Together, At Last (For Maybe Too Long?)
The sounds was eerily bare: just the right amount of information present (mostly in the clever replication of the glissando between the pitches of the notes) to conjure a real chicken. Regardless of her acoustic deficiencies, I was quickly teleported a full twenty years back as she called again and again and again. My blissful daze began to give way to wondering if she was supposed to be cackling, motionless for like a full minute. Wasn’t she supposed to drop an egg? I began to feel concern and vague confusion as her cawing went, unabated.
Eventually, after the tenth or so iteration of her robo-cackle, (which doesn’t seem that long, but trust me, definitely is) the woman working at the store yelled at me to push the quarter all the way in. Apparently it had gotten stuck and without the final push, there would be no egg drop. Not wanting to cause a scene, I obliged her, receiving my “prize”, though my truest reward would have been to just listen to that sound for like twenty minutes. I opened the egg to find she had laid a decidedly not-symbolic temporary tattoo of a monkey eating a banana. The Hen went silent and still, having fulfilled the job she was paid to do: dispense a toy.
I’m please that my single quarter apparently got lodged in there, prolonging my experience for a few precious extra seconds. It’s like she knew we might not see one another for a while. Will she live another twenty years?
The Source of All Chickens
I went back to Bob’s to see if I could find out any other information about the mysterious origin of The Hen. After finding a small decal on the back, I found a website with these two images:
Imagine the shock I felt when I read that her name was “Fun Chicken”, which is a frankly bullshit name, and that people believed her to be nothing more than a “proven money-maker”. To me, all of this is a great show of disrespect to a bird that deserves dignity. In the writing, the “manual” poses the suggestion that one or more Fun Chickens could be operated as a full-time business. And so:
At this time I would like to officially make clear my plans for my new arcade-style family fun center called “The Coop”, which will be full of dozens of dusty, forgotten Fun Chickens. They will be allowed to cackle as they please, and when a quarter is issued into the slot, an egg containing the message “Who have you become?” will be dispensed. The price of admission into The Coop will be high, but I think families looking for a surreal and bonding experience will understand the value attached.
Cackle on, Robo Hen.