[Editor's Note: Read the Powells.com interview with Michael Perry.
"Which came first, the chicken or the coop?"
— my wife, 2007
She didn't really say that, but she certainly earned the right. We first discussed the idea of getting chickens way back when we were dating. Shortly after that I began fantasizing about the perfect chicken coop. I came up with a lot of really terrific plans. And just kept coming up with them...even after we were married, and the chicks arrived...even after the chicks grew feathers...even after the chickens had been moved from the garage to the old pump house because the garage had gone to smelling like a rendering plant. At certain family meetings, it was posited that if I didn't get the coop built soon, we would settle into a perpetual Easter with every day an egg hunt.
With help from my buddy Mills, I did get the bloody thing built before the snow flew. And I don't mean bloody in the light English profanity sense. While constructing one of the walls, Mills managed to shoot himself through the finger with the nail gun (this from the same guy who served as my personal doula during the homebirth of my daughter). I wasn't helping Mills the day he shot himself, so he took a photo of the carnage and sent it to me.
It has been said that one must suffer for one's art: In this case, I appreciate Mills suffering for my art. Without Mills, there would be no coop on the cover of Coop.
As you can see from the photo above (I wish I could say the boat behind me is my private carp-shooting rig, but in truth it's in storage for a friend), I didn't let Mills do all the work himself. You will note the tape measure. I had a whole riff on tape measures in Coop that didn't make the final cut. I buy a lot of tape measures because I lose a lot of tape measures. I figure the more you seed the farm with them the more likely you are to find one when you need one. In order to stretch my tape measure budget, I draw a fine line between quality and economy. Once, while shopping for materials to build myself a modest hunting shack, I found myself staring at a hot pink tape measure. I liked the idea of the pink tape measure not because pink's my thing but because I figured it would be easy to find if I ever I misplaced it, which is usually about five minutes into the project. I waffled a bit, because the tape measure cost $1.95, and if you buy a 25-foot tape measure for under two bucks you are buying junk and you know it, but then I thought, well, what the heck, because it's not like I need something top of the line and as a matter of fact, with my limited construction skills (I bend as many nails as I drive), a high-end tape measure seems an overoptimistic investment. And so I bought the thing.
The very first time I tried to use it, while measuring corner-to-corner to make sure the floor I was building was square (it wasn't), the tape was extended about eight feet when the tab slipped off the board and the blade retracted, z-whup! It whipped around a little at the end there, and because the blade was made of some metal one notch below tinfoil, the force of the retraction put a kink in it, the upshot being that the end of the blade curved up and every time I hooked it over a board and tried to take a measurement, the end sprung loose and z-whup! rolled itself up. The third time this happened, I rose up to my tip-toes and hurled the thing straight down with all the fury I could muster.
When it hit the floorboards, the tape measure exploded like a cheap...tape measure. The hot pink shell split in two halves. One half flew out into an adjacent overgrown pasture. The other half bounded nearly straight up and landed on the roof of my father's woodshed. The tape, released from the confines of the case, uncoiled with explosive force, flinging itself every which way. I cannot lie, it was a most satisfying result. There are more acceptable ways to handle blind rage, but show me one that pays off with the same level of instant gratification.
"That's what you get for buying a $1.95 tape measure," I thought, and immediately felt the rage returning. Sure, my fault, but they knew that tape measure was a piece of crap when they put it on the shelf. It was fraudulent at any price. I couldn't find the one half that had bounced into the cow yard, but I got the other off the roof, wrapped the blade around it in a big wad, taped the whole works together into a shattered, twisted bundle, and headed back to the store. When I got there I went to the customer service counter and, using my best I'm about to climb a tall tower with a big gun gaze, looked the nice young lady square in the eyes, held out the clustered remnants, and said two words.
She looked at the wad of wreckage. Then she looked back at me.
Then she dug $1.95 out of the till.
I used the money to buy nails I couldn't hit.
We did get the coop built before the snow flew. Apart from a few splinters, there were no more work-related injuries, although we had a very close call when a wall broke loose and nearly crushed me.
This is why, even as a writer, I favor steel-toed boots. I came three feet from being Buster Keaton.
As of this writing, our chickens have survived their second Wisconsin winter in a structure more solid than my dreams. But please, when you see the coop on the cover of Coop, pause a moment to think of poor old Mills, doing a jig in the driveway, squeezing his punctured digit, and reciting aloud some very naughty words indeed.