“I see your problem,” my father said. “It’s deuced frustrating. You know, most adults don’t feel they have time to answer the questions of you little whippersnappers. But I can tell you how to get all the local news.”
“How?” I asked.
“It’s simply a matter of who you ask. As I said, most adults won’t give you the time of day –but here’s what you must do. Look for a shabby individual, one who is a bit dirty, needs a shave, and doesn’t smell very nice. Theis chap will often be sitting on a bench in the park. You may notice that he has a bottle of wine in a paper bag.”
“A bum?” I asked.
“So to speak,” my father said. “Now here’s someone who has plenty of time to observe the passing parade. He’s generally ignored by the rest of society — nobody wants to hear anything he may have to say. You give this fellow your respectful attention, and possibly fifty cents, and he will tell you everything he knows.”
“So ask a bum in the park?”
“Do remember that some people who fit the description are psychotic and might possibly attack you. But if you’re polite, keep a safe distance, and your eye on a route of escape, you should be all right. About the worst thing that may happen will be having a small wine bottle bounced off your noggin.”
“Good afternoon, sir” Bruno Ugg said. “I am Bruno Ugg, this is my friend Loretta Fischetti, and this lad we simply call Nick.”
“If you’re members of the Democratic Party trying to scare up votes, you’re wasting your time,” the bum said.
“It’s nothing like that,” I said. “We just wanted to wish you a good afternoon and pass the time of day.”
“I am Meehan the Bum,” the bum said. “I have always voted a straight Republican ticket, and the park is free to all.”
“Rather than get into a discussion of politics,” Loretta Fischetti said, “we wondered if you possibly recall the giant chicken that caused such a stir in Hoboken.”
Meehan took a swig from his bottle of wine and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. He gazed over our heads, across the park, and up the Hudson River. His eyes were red rimmed and watery.
“Giant chicken, you say? Aye, I have seen the giant chicken. I have seen the giant chicken of Sumatra, a bird too h;orrible to speak of. I have seen giant chickens in the hills of Kalimantan Borneo strong enough to carry away a young bullock in their beaks. See this scar?”
Meehan the Bum pointed to the knee of his greasy cordoury trousers. We nodded, although we saw no scar, only dirty fabric.
“I got this scar in a fight with a giant chicken in a back alley in Kowloon. Arr, children, I have seen more giant chickens than you had hot breakfasts. I’ve seen them on land and sea, seen them in Afric and Asia and here in the States. I was chased by a giant chicken in Arizona once — had me on the run for four days. I had to climb down one side of the Grand Canyon and up the other. When a giant chicken takes a dislike to you, it’s a hard bird to get away from.”
“Can you tell us anything about the giant chicken that was here in Hoboken?” I asked.
“Once I was in Ulan Bator. I was faving a saucer of fermented mare’s milk, when this giant chicken walks up to me.
“‘I suppose you think you’re better than me, the giant chicken says.
“‘I think nothing of the sort,’ I say. ‘I am just haivng a quiet saucer of kumis and a poppy-seed bagel.’
“‘I saw the way you looked at me when I cam in,’ the giant chicken said. ‘You Republicans have ruined everything.’
“I can see I am going to have to fight this giant chicken. He’s an ugly customer, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he pulled a knife or a gun on me. So I say, ‘Excuse me, but is that your order of mashed potatoes?’ Giant chickens can’t resist potatoes. While he is distracted, looked for the potatoes, I klonk him with a bottle and run out the dorr.”
“How about the giant chicken right here in town?” I asked. “Have you ever run into her?”
“Well, actually,” Meehan the Bum said. “this is the first time I’ve heard of it.”