“The Hoboken Chicken Emergency”… and other Pinkwater Tales
Story by Noelle Tate
Illustrations by Daniel & Jill Pinkwater
It all started to unfold after I’d stumbled upon The Hoboken Chicken Emergency while doing research for hMAG. This book is a sort of Hoboken Thanksgiving story involving a 266-pound chicken, crazed chaos, and a city-wide animal kindness campaign. It is also the first of many gems by Pinkwater, a large amount set in good old Hoboken, NJ. After speaking with Pinkwater himself, reading articles online, and cozying up with his Hoboken centric books, I developed a love for this man’s writing and believe that everyone can find his odd humor and eccentric creations magically charming.
“What Pinkwater does is magic and I’m grateful for it.” – Neil Gaiman
Daniel Pinkwater and his wife, Jill, lived in Hoboken for some time. In the 1960’s, Daniel had not yet been gracing pages with his strangely smart and whimsical words. Instead, he was pursuing his art career as a sculptor and printmaker in New York City and needed space. “Artists would find out about Hoboken, the affordable space there (compared to the city) and then not tell anyone about it so rents would not go up,” Pinkwater explained. Much like the adventures in his books, his journeys finding a place for his art and dwelling involve interesting and hard-to-believe characters somehow wrapped up in deep history. He was advised to go to the town judge and ask for space. “It was like the 1930’s, the judge had silver hair and a silver mustache, like right out of a movie,” recounted Pinkwater. The judge happened to like artists and rented his loft out to Daniel and Jill. The loft used to be the national guard armory and the space was large, very affordable, and had a beautiful view.
Hoboken became a beloved place for the Pinkwaters. Daniel remembers the first time he came up from the PATH in Hoboken, “There was the cobblestone street on Hudson Place, the green and gorgeous train station, ships and tugboats, seagulls wheeling overhead, and the giant hand pointing down at the Clam Broth House. And there were Hoboken citizens, going about their business, or just standing around…as though they were at HOME. When I went back to Manhattan that day, I took the ferry. If I hadn’t fallen in love already, I would have fallen in love then.”
Daniel began writing and illustrating his own books a little later on—most of which you can find in the Hoboken Public Library. Like many of us who live in Hoboken and work in NYC, Pinkwater also became fond of leaving the city that never sleeps after a days work and finding relief in a smaller, quieter city with a spectacular view of the skyline. The character and community feel of Hoboken cannot be denied. Pinkwater fully realized this and was inspired to write about Hoboken mostly due to the Hoboken people and their stories. “It has its own oral history, and a lot of it is wonderful,” said Pinkwater.
The Hoboken Chicken Emergency
“For absurdity with perfect timing, not many can match.” — Booklist
During the holidays, my family has some traditional movies that we watch around Thanksgiving to ease ourselves into the season. The most popular ones are Christmas Vacation with Chevy Chase, Elf with Will Ferrell, and A Christmas Story with Peter Billingsley. When I first read about The Hoboken Chicken Emergency, I thought to myself, this would be a great traditional holiday book to read. Funny that at the time, I had not yet discovered that it was made into a film in 1984, starring none other than Peter Billingsley, the “Ralphie” of A Christmas Story. It was also adapted into a musical at Seattle Children’s Theatre in 2001 with music by Chad Henry.
Written in 1977, the book opens up with young Arthur being given the very important task of picking up the turkey for their family Thanksgiving dinner. Chad’s lyrics echo the importance of this task and tradition with a song that goes:
“IT’S GOTTA BE TURKEY ON TURKEY DAY CAUSE THE FOUNDING FATHERS,
THEY DONE IT THAT WAY
AND IT WOULDN’T BE TRUE
TO THE RED WHITE AND BLUE
U-S-A — U-S-A
IF WE DIDN’T HAVE TURKEY ON TURKEY DAY”
But in true Pinkwater fashion, this task goes bizarrely awry. Everyone is sold out of turkeys and the butcher forgot to put one aside for Arthur’s family. He searches for even a duck or chicken to bring home but alas, the supply and demand are not on his side. Just before giving up—Arthur notices a card on a door that reads:
“Professor Mazzocchi, Inventor of the Chicken System, by appointment.”
Arthur rings the bell and is suddenly returning home with a two hundred and sixty-six pound super chicken, which he befriends and names Henrietta. The tale uncoils after his father forces him to return Henrietta to the professor. Henrietta is determined to find Arthur causing an uproar in Hoboken. It isn’t until the town accepts a new tactic of love and kindness do they resolve this chicken emergency.
Hotel Victor, the Clam Broth House, and other landmarks and well-known places make an appearance in this tale which is exciting for us Hoboken folk.
During the film A Christmas Vacation, the Griswold family comes together to read The Night Before Christmas to try and salvage what they could of their disastrous holiday. This Thanksgiving, I highly advise you to gather round after stuffing yourselves with all of the delicious, traditional trimmings and read The Hoboken Chicken Emergency aloud. Bring back tradition, quiet the Netflix, and find your imagination.
The story also sets up two sequels.
Sequels: Looking for Bobowicz & The Artsy Smartsy Club
“Pinkwater reads with abandoned perfection, and, like the best comedians, he always waits for the laugh.” – AudioFile
Within the first two pages, I knew Looking for Bobowicz would be an enjoyable read for me. By the first few chapters, I knew that Pinkwater was sure to entertain me and I was eager to finish the book in one sitting—an easy task for an adult. His wondrous wit continued to delight on every page. This is a must read—tell your kids to read it—and read it to the youngest ones that cannot read.
Nick, if that’s really his name, just moved into Hoboken with his parents who are comically positive about their son experiencing an urban setting. It’s summer in Hoboken and it’s scorching hot outside. What better way can high school kids spend their time other than losing themselves in comic books, a pirate radio station, and exploring Hoboken’s lore like Sybil’s Cave and a thieving phantom? This takes place years after The Hoboken Chicken Emergency and yet the mystery returns as the kids end up searching for what became of Henrietta.
Hoboken and its people play a much larger role in this book. The pirate radio station DJ plugs its claim to fame in chapter 17. “‘Did you know the first organized baseball game was played in Hoboken, in eighteen forty-six?’ Vic Trola asked. ‘And the first steam-driven railroad locomotive in American was built here in eighteen twenty-five…It has the oldest engineering college, the famous Clam Broth House restaurant, and Frank Sinatra, a big singer, was born here.’” And his mother says things like, “We just arrived, and you’re already doing urban things. You’re interacting with urban children. Didn’t I tell you moving to Hoboken would be good for you?,” in response to him going to catch bats with his new friends. I promise I’ll return this literary treasure to the library so you can check it out!
For All Ages
“Pinkwater’s quirky humor and imaginative plot will keep kids reading.” -Indianapolis Star
For the kids I recommend Jolly Roger, A Dog of Hoboken as well as The Magic Moscow Series, both set in Hoboken. For the adults, please check out collected essays entitled Chicago Days, Hoboken Nights and Hoboken Fish & Chicago Whistle.
Pinkwater left Hoboken when his wife wanted a garden and sped the process by buying a few horses while they were still living here. The move was a big change—the opposite of Nick’s move in Looking for Bobowicz. Pinkwater handled it gracefully but thought of the suburbs, “My God, people live here by choice, when they could live in Hoboken, and come out here for vacations. What’s wrong with them?”
Thank you to Daniel Pinkwater for his time and magical ingenuity and to the Hoboken Public Library for their helpfulness and fully stocked shelves. And now, please excuse me while I start reading another Pinkwater creation. ••