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How a Rooster Made Me a Family Man

Written by Brian McGroryAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Brian McGrory

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List Price: $9.99

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On Sale: November 13, 2012
Pages: 352 | ISBN: 978-0-307-95308-7
Published by : Broadway Books Crown/Archetype
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

Brian McGrory thought he had it all figured out: a great job, a condo in Back Bay, and his beloved golden retriever Harry by his side. But after Harry’s death, McGrory's life as a bachelor takes quite the turn. He falls in love with Harry’s veterinarian Pam, and leaves the city for life in the suburbs with Pam’s family and their two dogs, two cats, two rabbits, and Buddy—the self-assured family rooster who hates Brian’s guts.
   These things never go as easily as they should. The commute is long, the kids were wary, and Buddy was constantly poised to attack. But rather than accept defeat, Brian eventually sees that Buddy shares the kind of extraordinary relationship with Pam and the girls that he wants for himself. Funnily enough, it’s the rooster’s tenacious devotion to the family that encourages a change in Brian’s perspective, and before long, the archenemy becomes his inspiration, helping Brian evolve into a true family man
   With luminous writing and expert comic timing, McGrory brings to life a classic story of love, acceptance, and change as one man’s nemesis becomes his madcap mentor.

Now with Extra Libris material, including a reader’s guide and bonus content

Excerpt

9780307953063|excerpt

McGrory / BUDDY

1

Try as you might, you never forget that first time a rooster announces the dawn of a new day from your very own yard.

In my case, I jerked awake to find myself in a place I had never been, on a bed that wasn’t mine, in a room I didn’t know. There were windows where there had never been windows, and outside those windows, the first hint of morning light revealed the outline of tall trees I had never seen before.

I pressed and poked at the unfamiliar alarm clock until I realized it wasn’t the source of the sound. No, the noise in question was somewhere else, somewhere out of reach, somewhere outside of this room.

“Cock-­a-­doodle-­doo! Cock-­a-­doodle-­doo!”

It seemed to be getting closer, louder, clearer.

“Dammit.” I whirled toward the origin of the profanity, a figure that had suddenly stirred beside me in bed, a woman with a raspy voice still choked by sleep. She tossed off the thick comforter and lunged toward her side of the room.

In the darkness, I caught a glimpse of the yellow sweatshirt and blue surgical scrubs worn by this mysterious, fleeting figure. Hey, wait a minute. This wasn’t any unknown blonde. It was my fiancée, Pam. What was she doing here? I watched as she paused in the murky expanse, apparently gathering her bearings, and then vanished through an open door.

“Cock-­a-­doodle-­doo! Cock-­a-­doodle-­doo!”

I looked at the alarm clock on the bedside table: 4:55 a.m. Clarity was making a comeback. Memories were returning, gaps filling in. I had moved the day before. Yes, right, moved. It wasn’t a small move. I’d left the city I love, Boston, where I had lived for most of the last twenty-­two years, for a distant and leafy place known as Suburbia. I’d left a classic 150-­year-­old brick town house loaded with character and charm for a rambling new suburban home surrounded by this thing I was told was a lawn. I’d left a life of total freedom and independence—­the only thing resembling a familial obligation was my golden retriever, who never felt obligatory at all—­to live with Pam, her two daughters, their two rabbits, and their dog, Walter, in a new house that, as of the previous day, I think I even co-­owned.

“Cock-­a-­doodle-­doo!”

Oh, and how could I forget their rooster? Otherwise known as my wake-­up call. That was Buddy screaming outside, Buddy waking me up, Buddy announcing, with singular style, that my life would never again be the same. Just as I had spent my first night in a new house, so had he, in his case a grossly expensive shed that Pam had custom-­built in the side yard, with tall double cedar doors, insulated walls, a shingled roof, a shelf that served as his high perch, and windows that had yet to be installed, which explained the penetrating predawn alert. Buddy had awakened to the sounds of potential predators outside his house, which meant that the rest of the street awoke to Buddy’s war cry. Good morning, new neighbors!

I heard footsteps downstairs, then the happy yelps and little barks of the relieved chicken undoubtedly being carried in Pam’s arms. I had this rush of fear that she was bringing him up to bed until I heard the cellar door open, steps, silence. Moments later, the darkness giving way to more light, Pam fell into bed next to me.

“Poor guy is scared and confused,” she said sleepily.

“I’ll be okay,” I said.

“No. I mean Buddy.”

As Pam drifted back to sleep, I lay in bed trying to get my head around how all this was going to work. I’m not talking about this new, grand, crowded life filled with spasms of drama lurking around the most seemingly complacent corners, or the constant cacophony of girls, dogs, and chicken, or the long commute to work, or the neighbor inevitably leaning over my back fence to tell me when to flip my burgers, or the fact that my new walk to the coffee shop led me along a highway and to a strip mall. No, I just mean getting up, getting ready, getting out. In my old life, as in yesterday, I’d accompany my golden retriever on a quiet walk through a tranquil park known as the Esplanade set along the banks of the Charles River in Boston. The river flowed on one side, surprisingly clean. The high-­rises of Back Bay towered on the other. We’d loop through the Public Garden, where swan boats awaited the day’s riders and the colorful palette of fat tulips signaled the start of better things. We’d mosey up Newbury Street, past the stores and boutiques that had yet to come to life for the day, the dog happily slurping water from any shopkeepers who happened to be hosing down their sidewalks. We’d stop at a coffee shop where the nice counter clerk knew what I wanted and always seemed happy that I was there, and wind up on my front stoop, where I’d read the paper and the tired dog would laze in the sun.

Now I had the finite space of a yard. Now I had a car to get to Dunkin’ Donuts. And now I had an eight-­year-­old in the house named Caroline who had learned from her older cousin the prior summer how to pick a lock with a bobby pin. She was excellent at it, a talent that would result in uncharacteristically short and uncommonly tense showers for me.

“Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!”

The kids, two girls, raced into the room at that very minute, dived through the air, and landed on the bed between Pam and myself, the older of the daughters, Abigail, rolling into me, giggling loudly as she gave me the once-­over from her vantage point on the pillow, and declaring “Your hair is sticking straight up.”

Good to know. Pam rolled over, and the three of them hugged and talked about their first night in their new bedrooms. The two dogs had stirred and began wrestling on the bedroom floor. Buddy began crowing again from two floors below.

“He’s in the basement,” Pam told the kids, who were looking quizzical, and it was as if she had lit the fuse of a rocket. They roared out of the room as fast as they had arrived, followed more slowly by their mother, who was followed by the two dogs, leaving me alone with my hopes and fears—­my hopes being that this whole big venture would work out as it was supposed to, my fears being about every possible way that my twisted little mind could devise to screw things up.

I took the quickest shower of my life. Downstairs, every living creature in the house had gathered in the kitchen. The dogs were lying in wait, though out of their element and unclear on the agenda. “I get it, guys,” I told them. The rabbit cage had somehow shown up next to the kitchen table with two creatures named Dolly and Lily inside, though I wouldn’t pass a test on which was which. Pam was dicing fruit and cooking pancakes on a stovetop griddle that had appeared out of nowhere and that I hadn’t known we owned. How had she even found it in this sea of boxes? Ten years in my old condo and I don’t think I opened the oven door, let alone cooked breakfast.

And Buddy. Big, white, proud, and round, with a rubbery red comb and a matching red wattle, he was clucking around the floor, high-­stepping between the dogs, cooing at the kids who were on their knees doing their very best to make him feel at home. “You are the best rooster in town,” Abigail told him. Caroline swooped him into her thin arms so he could watch her mother make the pancakes. “Oh, poor Boo-­Boo, don’t be scared,” she whispered in his ear. “We all love you.”

What followed were twenty or so minutes of orchestrated pandemonium during which I was every inch, at every moment, the uninvited guest. To intrude would have been like tossing a butter knife into the blades of a whirring fan. Food was furiously eaten. Dishes were swept away in a clack of noise, yet still found their way to the dishwasher. Kids raced upstairs to get dressed for school. Countdown clocks were yelled. Kids argued about what they were going to wear. Lunches were made and recess snacks prepared in separate bags. Soon enough, I found myself standing on the front porch watching the three women of Sawmill Lane heading toward Pam’s car, the two girls lugging backpacks as their little ponytails bounced with every step. Did they really do this every morning?

“Hey, Brian,” Caroline said in her squeaky little voice as she rolled down the back window on their way out of the driveway. Acknowledgment! “Don’t eat all the cupcakes that Mom bought.” And they were off.

Alone, I stepped out into the yard, which was more weeds than grass, but I’d take care of that. I looked back at the barn red house, and I had to admit, it was pretty handsome, everything brand-­new, never lived in before, meaning that every day spent here, every memory made here, would be all and only ours, and if this morning was any indication, the memories would be plentiful. Pam and I would be married soon in this house. The kids would grow from girls to teenagers to young women in this house. They’d return from college, surrounded by their pasts, to contemplate where in this world they wanted to go. Everything was set for a wonderful narrative filled with unique characters that would unfold over the many years ahead, hopefully more comedy than drama.

That first day in a new house, there are no bad places, no unpleasant recollections of arguments or phone calls or knocks on the door that could send your world spinning out of control in a whispered moment. There were only possibilities. The floors shone. The windows glistened. The counters sparkled. It was all new—­as new as my new life had ever been—­and it was ours, mine and Pam’s, together.

As I emerged from my reverie, I walked back onto the porch admiring the craftsmanship and the details that had gone into the house. And that’s when I heard him, his long, raspy groan, as if his emotions—­specifically, anger—­were billowing up inside his barrel chest. I looked down to see Buddy emerge from behind a pillar, almost comically corpulent from the copious amounts of food that the kids constantly fed him. The Roman philosopher Cicero once wrote that a chicken approaching from the left is always good luck. I have no idea whether or not that’s true, but I do know that Buddy was decidedly approaching from my right, if only to make the point completely moot, perhaps meaningfully so.

All of this would have been nothing more than wallpaper to this incredibly pretty and memorable day but for one key point: Buddy didn’t like me. Well, actually, that’s not the whole truth. No, the whole truth is, Buddy hated my guts. He didn’t understand the actual point of me. If he was there to watch over his kingdom of pretty, blond hens, why was this frivolous little man around as well? Add to that the fact that he was probably just smart enough to know that I would have roasted him as fast as he would fit into an oversized pan. The result was a relationship far less than idyllic.

Though he could chirp and play with the kids and bat his beady little eyes at Pam as she talked to him in her high chicken voice (“You’re the most handsome Boo-­Boo in the whole big world!”), he thought nothing, absolutely nothing, of extending and flapping his wings at me while charging with a mix of disdain and fury on his otherwise vacuous chicken face. His goal: to jam his sharp beak into the fleshiest parts of my legs. When I batted him away, he would leap into the air, as if trying to castrate me. I swear he spent quiet nights on his perch plotting my demise.

So there I was, first day at this new house, having my moment on the porch, and I froze. I remembered Pam’s warning that sudden movements would put him into full attack mode. Likewise, I recalled her advice that standing my ground too firmly could be seen as a challenge and provoke an attack anyway. And then there was the helpful advice that if I backed away, even subtly, he would sense weakness and really go for it. So I stood there, trying to look strong but not threatening, tense as a tuning fork though trying to hide it, willing myself to the door without actually moving, when my dog, Baker, came walking right between us, dropped the ball at my feet, and stared up at my face.

“Good boy,” I said, in my deep dog voice. “Very good boy.” I picked up the ball and walked to the door, Baker following me with his eyes, the net effect being that Buddy was boxed out in a way that would have made my old high school basketball coach proud.

I tossed the ball. Baker bounded after it, leaving me and Buddy and an expanse of about a dozen feet of beautiful, unblemished deck between us. He could probably cover that distance in a matter of a moment, but I now had the confidence of someone with an escape clause—­my hand, firmly on the door. I began turning the knob ever so slowly.

He assessed the situation, his face twitching, his comb flopping on his head, little clucks coming from his throat, when finally, mercifully, he turned away and hopped down the two steps onto the brick walkway and into the front yard. Before he did that, though, he paused just long enough to drop a massive ring of white and black chicken turd that landed on the wood of my brand-­new front porch with an almost sickening thwack.

He scratched at my grass, such as it was, let out a loud crow, as if saying he had plenty of time to deal with me, and waddled around the side of the house.
Brian McGrory|Author Q&A

About Brian McGrory

Brian McGrory - Buddy

Photo © Suzanne Kreiter

BRIAN MCGRORY has been a news reporter and columnist for the Boston Globe for almost thirty years, and is now editor. He has won the Scripps Howard and Sigma Delta Chi journalism awards and is the author of four novels. He lives in Massachusetts with his family.

Author Q&A

How did you come to write this book?
 
One day I woke up and the reality dawned on me that, good God, I’m living with a rooster; how did this happen to me? I knew how it happened. I fell for a woman unlike anyone I had ever met. She lived in the suburbs, while I had spent my adult life in the city. She had two daughters. The older of those daughters incubated eggs at an elementary school science fair, and from one of those eggs came a little chick they called Buddy. The chick grew up watching television in their laps and sleeping in a little cage in the living room. When it got bigger, the kids pleaded with Pam to keep it, so the chicken lived in the yard by day and slept on a perch in Pam’s garage at night. Even when the chicken proved to be a big, white, crowing rooster, it didn’t matter to any of them. He still came inside to watch TV. He pecked at the doors. He doted on the kids, and they on him. When Pam and I bought a house and we all moved in together, the rooster came with the whole package deal.
 
There was one essential problem with all this, quite apart from the weirdness of a rooster living in a suburban house: This rooster had utterly no use for me and wasn’t shy about demonstrating the sentiment. Amid all these transformations in my life—moving from the city to the proverbial leafy suburbs, from a life of total independence to one with two very outspoken young girls—there was a rooster that was serving as my personal drill sergeant. Maybe it was the tenth time he chased me across my new lawn, maybe it was the fiftieth, but at some point it dawned on me that there might be a book in all this.
 
What does the book mean to you?
 
There would be days that I’d be sitting in my little study writing my column for the Boston Globe, the two kids bouncing in and out, one of the cats walking across my keyboard, and the rooster would position himself just underneath the open window and scream his twitching little head off because he heard me talking to people on the phone. Could have been the mayor or the governor or my editor or an everyday person I was writing about. It didn’t matter. My orderly little life had become total bedlam. But as time went on, I started drawing lessons on commitment, on family, on happiness in general, from this bird that was so completely committed to his flock. And sitting down and penning this book, the good and the bad that go with these significant transitions in life, helped me sort it all out. It’s a story about a rooster, yes, but it’s also a story about tremendous change and how we cope with it.

 
What’s one of the funniest or most surprising lessons Buddy has taught you?
 
Being there. Buddy showed me that, when it comes to kids, mates, people you love, being there is critical, whether it’s convenient or not. And not just being there in physical presence but investing yourself in the moment. Buddy was always there, watching his flock. He didn’t care about what happened outside of our yard, because everything he ever wanted in his life, everything that mattered, was right there. It was nice to see and important to understand.
 
How have your relationships with Buddy and Harry differed?
 
Harry changed everything for me. He taught me how to really feel for someone or something, to open up and give of myself in a way that I never had before. Maybe I should be embarrassed that a dog could so completely change a man, but I’m not, because he was that important to me. He was wise, fun, lively, an ideal friend, and I wanted to be that in return, and what he taught me was that you often get back in life what you give, and even if you don’t get it in return, you still feel better about yourself when you put it on the line.
 
Buddy, well, that’s different. Where Harry softened me up in many respects, Buddy did the opposite, showing me that you have to be tough and committed and completely devoted to your flock. They were some tough lessons to learn, especially given his methods, but I’m glad I had him as my teacher—mostly.
 
What do you hope readers will take away from the book?
 
That animals play a critical role in our lives, or at least they can. That they make us better people in surprising ways. That transitions are difficult, but so often for the better. That you’re never too old too learn a few new tricks. That thick skin is an asset. That the more you give, the more you’re likely to get in return.
 
How has your career as a columnist for the Boston Globe influenced your writing?
 
It is nearly too broad and deep to get into here, but suffice it to say that it has opened me up to a large, complex, meaningful world filled with everyday people encountering, battling, surmounting, often extraordinary situations and circumstances. People invite me into their kitchens, their businesses, their families, and their lives to tell me their stories, some heartwarming, others agonizing. The job has taught me perspective and proportion.
 
In terms of writing, it has also infused me with economy. I need to tell often unwieldy stories in a short amount of space, which has made for what I think is a more direct writing style than, say, a magazine writer. I always feel the need to get to the point.

Praise

Praise

A USA Today Weekend Pick

“Brian McGrory has a sure hand for polished storytelling. He is able to wring maximum comic effect from the Terrible Pet genre and also to tell a heartwarming family tale without trying too noticeably to warm the heart…The subsequent bad-rooster stories, family discord and grudging acclimation by Mr. McGrory to life in a menagerie accomplish what is surely the desired end. They put Buddy into the Marley & Me league of winsome books about the hyped-up horrors and tender, unexpected rewards of pet paternity.” New York Times

“This is a laugh-out-loud read.” Chicago Tribune

"In this touching tale of how a feisty rooster, who constantly peers at the columnist through the window, made McGrory a better man, the columnist succeeds in telling the story of change with a healthy dose of humor...Lessons are learned here, often the hard way, but McGrory comes out the other side realizing how second acts can succeed if you give everyone enough space, love and respect. Especially the rooster." USA Today

“Poignant and funny…McGrory takes the pet memoir to a hilarious new place as a crazed rooster competes with him over who will rule his new family’s suburban roost…McGrory vividly explores his frustrations…detailing it all with self-effacing humor and a winning ability to dramatize the ‘man vs. rooster’ conflict with scenes that are self-revelatory and laugh-out-loud funny...It turns out that for McGrory, as it was for Emily Dickinson, hope is a thing with feathers." Boston Globe

“Can an ornery rooster really help a city-loving divorce adapt to family life in the suburbs? McGrory’s memoir will have you convinced.” People

"The very best of memoir writing--honest, clear, and so ultimately moving you feel as if you are best friends with Brian McGrory, though it will not make you want to run out and buy yourself a rooster." —W. Bruce Cameron, author of A Dog's Purpose

"At turns hilarious and heart-breaking, Buddy is a book to crow about.” —Sy Montgomery, author of The Good Good Pig and Birdology
 
“A book that makes us laugh and cry is precious, and as a man who has a rooster and writes about animals, Brian McGrory hit a home run for me with Buddy: How A Rooster Made Me A Family Man...Anyone who has ever loved an animal will want to go on this journey.” —Jon Katz, author of Going Home, A Dog Year, and Dancing Dogs
 
"Hilarious and heart-warming, Buddy reminded me of Cheaper by the Dozen, only with animals.   I flat-out loved this book." —Joseph Finder, New York Times bestselling author of Paranoia and Buried Secrets

“A moving and funny account of one man’s journey from bachelor to husband and father aided by remarkable pets.” Publishers Weekly

"A heartwarming and wise tale of finding love in life’s second chapter—and how it means all the more when you have to fight for it." Library Journal

Reader's Guide|Discussion Questions

About the Book

In order to provide reading groups with the most informed and thought-provoking questions possible, it is necessary to reveal certain aspects of the story in this memoir. If you have not fi nished reading Buddy, we respectfully suggest that you wait before reviewing this guide.

Discussion Guides

1. At its heart a story both of incredible loss and the rejuvenation of finding new love, Buddy tells a universal account of some major moments in life. Before he and Pam (and Buddy) found each other, Brian McGrory was utterly heartbroken by the loss of his beloved golden retriever Harry. Were you able to relate to Brian’s devastation? If you’ve lost a pet, how did that experience impact your life?

2. Some believe that when a pet dies, the best way to cope is to get a new one. Do you find that strategy helpful, or does it only exacerbate the loss? Brian didn’t try to replace Harry with anotherdog of his own. Why do you think that was?

3. Brian’s whole life changed when Harry’s health began to decline—notably, that’s how he met Pam. In your opinion, do you think this was good timing? Why or why not?

4. Do you personally believe, in general, that good things can come from bad? Why or why not? Have you ever experienced positivity as a result of something painful? Explain.

5. Establishing and growing into new relationships isn’t always easy, and it can be especially tough when other people, pets, homes, and jobs are involved. With all of this in mind, who do you think felt the most change in those early years: Brian, Pam, or Abigail and Caroline? Please explain.

6. Buddy was just a chick when Brian met him, but he stuck around well past his cute yellowfluff stage and proceeded to torture Brian for quite some time. Should Brian have been more persistent about getting rid of him? Why do you think he ultimately chose to accept Buddy? What would you have done in his situation?

7. A devoted city person for years, the move from Boston to the country wasn’t easy for Brian; it was a change that took quite a bit of patience and sacrifice, and it showed his dedication to Pam and her girls. Would you go to similar lengths for those you love? Do you have a limit? Please explain.

8. Brian often uses humor to recount his story. What do you think is the funniest part of this book? Why?

9. Toward the end of Buddy, Brian notes, “Never in my wildest fears did I ever think I would recall having a rooster in my yard—rather than inside my house—as the good old days.” By this point, he had evolved quite a lot as a person, a man, a husband, a homeowner, and a stepfather. Which part of his story do you think had the biggest influence on his becoming a family man? At what point do you think Buddy was most instrumental to Brian’s change?

10. Since the publication of this memoir, Buddy has unfortunately passed away. Do you think Brian, Pam, and the girls will get a new rooster? Why, or why not? Do you think they should?


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