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Sunday Journal: Rooster shows these stonemasons who's cock of the walk

"Dwayne," I yelled, staring at my empty mud-board and tapping my trowel to the beats coming from a radio. Reaganomics and another baby on the way didn't allow me much time for patience.

"I'm sorry, Jack." Dwayne stumbled into the den where I was building a stone fireplace. "This rooster won't leave me alone. He keeps attacking me!" I followed him out into the light of midmorning. Always a little too intense at work, the sight of a tiny red, green, and yellow bantam rooster dancing along the lip of one of the wheelbarrows brought me a cleansing breath and an instant smile.

"Every time I grab the wheelbarrow handles he gets me," Dwayne said, showing me the little bloody marks on his hands. "And look at my legs. I pushed him away with a shovel, and he got both my legs."

"Dwayne, he's just a runt rooster. Come on, man." I rushed over to the wheelbarrow and with my gloved left hand swatted the rooster away. "Get along," I said in a low register. "I have no time for you." The rooster flailed to the ground, quickly turned around and began tearing at the turf. I was half-expecting him to attack me, but suddenly he took a 45-degree turn to the left, shot over to a fence about 30 feet away and began a machine-gun attack on an old black and tan hunting dog, who was sleeping peacefully by a fence post. The dog awoke with an awful bay, ducked under the fence and ran woefully crying through a pasture where a few cows and a horse leisurely grazed.

The little instigator turned and gave us an indignant look. He spastically scratched the ground again then sauntered away. Occasionally, he would look back as if he were assuring himself we were sharing in his glory. The entire scene lasted only two or three minutes.

"Okay, let's get back to work. Fill up my mud-board." I was shaking my head. "I need some rock, too."

"Okay, but that rooster is crazy," Dwayne said mostly to himself.

"I don't think he will bother you again."

A little later, I was setting stone and thinking that my customers owned a nice piece of property; they had 15 acres out on Tobacco Road, just north of Tampa. "Jack," yelled Dwayne, "He's doing it again!" A fresh rivulet of blood trickled down Dwayne's leg, just below the knee. I went out and shooed the rooster away, but the rhythm of the day had pretty much been established: Every half-hour or so my helper would run into the room where I was working, blurt out a new war story, and I would go out and shoo his antagonist away. I am not sure why the ornery rooster withheld his wrath from me — maybe he just took a special interest in Dwayne.

Despite the calamities, we made it through the day. As we were cleaning the stones and smoothing out the mortar between the rocks — usually the last part of our workday — a long, low whistle broke our concentration. "Man, you guys are good. I thought only old men had the skill to be stonemasons." It was the homeowner, Mr. Sherman, standing behind a pile of stone with his arms crossed. He had made a trophy of a glistening six-pack of imported beer. It sat invitingly snuggled among the rocks.

"Thank you, this kind of work has been in my family for a while," I returned. I almost began my-grandfather-once-worked-for-Frank Lloyd Wright story, but refrained. "I like this stone," I added. "It is full of fossils and the imprints of plants; it's one of the few stones indigenous to Florida."

"It feels right for what we are trying to do in here. Would you gentlemen like a cold one?"

Dwayne put on his puppy-dog look. "Thanks, give us five minutes," I answered.

We finished up work and went out to an old picnic table Mr. Sherman had put out for the workers to use while he and his wife were doing renovation on the place. We began drinking our beers and almost immediately the rooster became the topic. Dwayne showed Mr. Sherman the wounds from his day's work. Mr. Sherman shook his head, "I know, I know. I should put him down. He terrorizes all the animals around here, but . . ." Just then a loud whinny and the sound of a galloping horse interrupted us. We turned to see Mr. Sherman's horse charging through the pasture. The bantam rooster was riding on the horse's neck. He had his claws buried in the horse's mane, and he was wildly pecking about the poor horse's head. The horse stopped, reared his front legs, and pawed at the air. The rooster held tightly and as the horse turned and ran off in another direction, we could hear him angrily neighing and the rooster crowing with delight.

Eventually, Mr. Sherman finished his sentence, ". . . in some stupid way I respect him."

Still laughing, I noticed Dwayne had a vacant stare. I guess he knew we had a few more days out on Tobacco Road.

K. Jack Ross is a general contractor and third-generation stonemason. He lives in Tampa.

Sunday Journal: Rooster shows these stonemasons who's cock of the walk 05/02/10 [Last modified: Sunday, May 2, 2010 1:01am]

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