Jeff VanderMeer, one of the world’s best writers, posted this picture to his Facebook profile.
Why he did so is not important for the purposes of this post. What’s important is the picture: a man, looking unhappy, dressed as a giant chicken.
During a recent meeting with my writers group, I was asked about the first story I had had published. I made a choice that day to share a shameful moment from my past. Now I do it openly on the internet.
Way, waaaaay back when, I was a grunt programmer who worked in a small cubicle. On my cubicle wall I had displayed a large, colorful calendar that I had picked up at a local Mexican restaurant. The calendar promoted the restaurant, of course, and displayed the months of the year (of course). The artwork adorning the calendar was something like a scene straight out of a Cormac McCarthy novel: a group of wild-eyed Mexican men and scantily clad ladies stood around a bloodied cockfighting pit, many of them holding money in their fists above their heads. Two fighting cocks were engaged in a horrible fight and feathers flew all different directions.
Looking back, I shake my head at the young Jason. I can’t believe I hung such a racist, violent calendar in my work office! At the time, I reasoned that Hey, the Mexican restaurant gave it to me, so it must be okay.
The restaurant’s calendar inspired me to write a terrible short story titled…well…I’m not going to divulge the title in case the story exists somewhere. I don’t want anybody reading it. Ever.
I can tell you about the story’s plot, though. There is an unhappy young man working in a cubicle farm. He is called into a meeting by his supervisors. The bosses tell him he’s going to be fired, but he can save his job by agreeing to do some cleanup work in the basement of the building. He agrees to do the work. In the basement, he’s clubbed over the head, locked in a steel cage, and fed nothing but cans of corn for 3 days. After three days, they force him to wear an armored chicken suit and then throw him into a pit with another, larger man (the pit champion!) and tell him to fight or die. The senior management of the company he works for all sits around the pit on leather couches while betting on the outcome.
The cubicle flunky loses the fight and is pecked to death. Finis!
I warned you it was a terrible short story. But I got it published in one of those ‘for exposure‘ do-it-yourself underground zines. I bought 20 copies of the issue and gave them out to family and friends.
I wish I hadn’t done that.
I see chicken suits all the time. And every time, I’m reminded of my shame.
(Author note: This is not an essay in my upcoming book, just an essay about a sale I made to a “for exposure” venue)