A rooster’s tale of international intrigue | PostIndependent.com

A rooster’s tale of international intrigue

Essex and the rooster.
Ray Meeks for the Post Independent |

One of the great things about working in journalism is the variety it affords.

Earlier this year, in my role as a Cincinnati Enquirer editor, I took part in interviews with House Speaker John Boehner and with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Last week, I got to talk with Ray Meeks about his chicken. The fact is, I learned more from Meeks than I did from the scripted responses of two of the nation’s most powerful politicians.

Perhaps this is a good place to note that my wife told me not to peck out this column. “People will think you’re nuts,” she warned.

Maybe, but some stories simply must be told. Besides, it’s been a long, nasty campaign season, and we all need a beak.

This rooster tail begins in 2011, during our first, too-short stint living in the valley.

Driving into Glenwood Springs from the south, I spotted a chicken alongside Highway 82.

This was a giant chicken, mingling with bears and elk at First Class Trash, a trove of antiques, art and large decorative animals. The rooster reminded me of Foghorn Leghorn, one of my favorite childhood cartoon characters.

Maybe my wife would prefer I keep this private, but I like cartoon chickens, like Foghorn and Muddy the Mud Hen. Muddy is the Toledo minor league baseball team mascot that adorns my favorite baseball cap.

I can’t explain why I like cartoon fowl or my related enjoyment of giant chicken … sculptures. Yes, let’s call them sculptures.

Back in college at the University of Nebraska, a popular Sunday destination (partly because it served beer and Lincoln at the time was dry on Sundays) was Lee’s restaurant right outside of town. Its specialty was fried chicken, and it had a huge chicken … sculpture … on its roof.

I wondered who sold those. Did people make a living driving the countryside with giant chickens (and cattle and cattle heads) on trailers, stopping by restaurants and making a pitch that what would really bring the place together was a huge fake animal?

So it was that every time we drove by First Class Trash, I speculated how much Foghorn would cost.

When we moved to Cincinnati in 2012, I made a deal with my wife that if we found our way back, I got to buy the chicken.

When I became PI editor in May, I told Angye, “I get the chicken.”

“No, the homeowner’s association won’t allow it,” she said.

She had done the househunting that landed our Carbondale condo, so this clearly was a set-up.

At least I could write a column about it. Maybe I could conduct a mock interview with Foghorn Leghorn, who clearly had retired from show biz to move here.

But a few weeks later, Foghorn was gone. The southern entrance to Glenwood looked empty.

Then, last month, the rooster was back. I hurried to First Class Trash to get inside the bird’s brain.

So, Ray Meeks, what’s the deal with having a giant chicken out front of your store?

“I like having the biggest rooster in the valley,” he said. It brings people inside, he explained, where most of the merchandise is quite a bit more sophisticated.

The shop brings to mind the items featured on the “American Pickers” TV show. Meeks gets most of his items on consignment and said that without something like a TV contract, it wouldn’t be possible to make money going on the road regularly like the pickers do.

He confirmed that the bird on Highway 82 now is a twin of the … sculpture … that caught my eye in 2011. The first Foghorn hung around the valley for quite awhile, even roosting at Russets restaurant in Carbondale for a time on lease.

So, Ray, you sold the first one?

“It’s in California, put it that way,” he said.

The story takes a bit of a turn here, part of which I couldn’t confirm.

The roosters are cast aluminum, made in Mexico and welded together. That accounts for the $2,400 price tag on Foghorn II’s butt — a cost that’s about 10 times greater than I expected.

“Most people who come in think it’s fiberglass, and would cost hundreds of dollars, not 2,400,” Meeks said. But it’s a “lifetime sculpture,” he noted, requiring only touch-up paint after it’s yours.

The Mexican business owner, who Meeks said now lives in California, must keep the casting operation literally underground. (This is one part of the conversation that was much more interesting and just about as verifiable as Mitch McConnell saying that global warming is not proven.)

Operating above ground would show off the 30-employee business’s prosperity and attract gangs’ attention and demands for protection money. That’s believable. Who could ignore an 8-foot-tall rooster?

So what we have here is a chicken slipped into the United States in pieces. It’s seen some stuff. Its older brother left Glenwood for California under what can be described only as mysterious circumstances.

I may have uncovered some sort of Chicken Protection Program right here in town. Much more interesting than Boehner.

As Foghorn Leghorn might say, “That’s a joke. I say, that’s a joke, son.” But the rooster is real.

Randy Essex is editor of the Post Independent. “Beak” in the fifth paragraph is intentional, as is “rooster tail” in the sentence after that.

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