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Is it wrong to want an 8-foot chicken?

Friday, August 20, 2010
posted by Rita Handrich

Since some of you cynics imagine this to be a trick question, you’re thinking it probably depends on the definition of ‘want’. For more than 5 years, I have wanted, ruminated about, and considered how I could fit this chicken into my life. Would the neighbors complain about it peering over their fence? Would my HOA have a fit? Would it make me smile every time I saw it?

The chicken lives in Brenham, Texas along Highway 290 between the Dairy Queen and Michael’s Taxidermy. Every time I drive to Houston, I pass the chicken (yes, I know it’s really a rooster, but in my mind, it’s a chicken). I always think “I want that chicken” but I never stop. This week I stopped. And the chicken is not for sale until the price of metal in Mexico stabilizes. I want the chicken even more now that I know I can’t have it. They offered a 4-foot chicken and even a 2-foot chicken for a whole lot less than the 8-foot chicken will cost. But it wouldn’t be the same. Sometimes, only the real 8-foot chicken will do.

It’s beyond reason—my chicken fixation. Like the way sometimes attorneys choose to take on cases that really are not good ones. I remember a case we did a focus group on a number of years ago—a motorcyclist not wearing a helmet and ending up with a horrible head injury. His spouse said “he was responsible—he wore a helmet every time, except this time”. The mock jurors thought he knew better and this is what happens. I wonder what made the attorney choose that case?

Or the case of the high school teenager (a very good girl) who met a boy (who was actually a young man pretending to be a high school senior) on a social networking site and secretly met him (knowing her mother would not approve) and she was raped. Her mom thought the social networking site was responsible. Jurors thought the girl had made a bad choice and painful as it was, this was a natural consequence.  What we predicted, and what the focus group told us, was that the jurors were distressed by the failure of parental supervision.  That one was easier to see in terms of attorney investment: a horrible outcome and fears about how social networking sites were playgrounds for predators. But jurors saw it differently.

We’ve seen the newer research on how bad many lawyers are at predicting case outcomes and therefore, on choosing cases. But why is that? The researchers say women are better at it then men and that there are specific case patterns that make it tougher. While those things may be true—perhaps there are also some individual/internal factors at work.

I think sometimes we don’t want to believe we made a really bad decision. Or we are blinded for various reasons in our own history. So I was thinking about why I want this chicken. What are the motivations or early childhood experiences drawing me to an 8-foot chicken? And I thought of Paul Bunyan.

I grew up in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, close to the border of Canada. We didn’t have 8-foot chickens up there. But we did have a 15-foot tall Paul Bunyan statue near my high school. I considered if the 8-foot chicken was a substitute for a Paul Bunyan. But then I came to my senses. I never, ever, even for a moment, wished for a Paul Bunyan statue in my yard. That would be tacky. But an 8-foot chicken? That’s art.

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