Off Limits

Democrat John Kerry may have been born at Fitzsimons Army Hospital, but another presidential candidate really lost his head over Colorado.

Mike the Headless Chicken's campaign for U.S. President officially kicked off last weekend, when the fifth annual Mike the Headless Chicken Festival drew hundreds of supporters to Fruita for a day of car shows, 5K races, music, food ("chicken blood" snow cones) and crafts (chicken noodle soap). Mike himself, however, was there only in the form of a metal sculpture set in the middle of downtown Fruita, since he's been dead since 1947.

And even that was an almost two-year reprieve. Mike became famous -- and headless -- in 1945, when Fruita farmer Lloyd Olsen tried to turn the fryer into dinner. But after the ax lopped off Mike's head, what remained of the chicken took off running. The next morning, Lloyd found the bird -- still alive -- sleeping with his head under his wing. So he packed up the chicken and took him to the University of Utah, which investigated his miraculous survival.

"It was determined that the ax blade had missed the jugular vein and a clot had prevented Mike from bleeding to death," reports "Although most of his head was in a jar, most of his brain stem and one ear was left on his body. Since most of a chicken's reflex actions are controlled by the brain stem, Mike was able to remain quite healthy."

In fact, he grew to nearly eight pounds through regular feedings with an eyedropper, and lived long enough to be featured in both Time and Life magazines.

And now, posthumously, he's running for president. But history has shown it doesn't take brains to get elected to that post.

Not that Mike fared very well his first time in the race. "We did it four years ago, in 2000, but we didn't get anything out until that September, so it didn't really catch on," says Yvonne Piquette, Fruita's director of administrative services. "Now we're bright enough to think of it ahead of time. We figure he has probably as good a chance as anybody."

Mike's recent celebration attracted enough people to land Fruita in the Guinness World Records book for the third time. The first, of course, was after Mike escaped death by ax: No other headless chicken has lived so long. The second was for the longest continuous chicken dance ever: 23 minutes. This year, the city beat its own chicken-dance record by three minutes. Sure, some of the dancers were mountain bikers who got sucked in while taking advantage of the "new Moab," but Mike's campaign staffers aren't picky. They'll take any support they can get, starting with Mike's running mate, a twenty-foot-tall fiberglass Ceratosaurus named Grrretta that used to sit outside the Sinclair gas station on the edge of town. (She's since been moved to a spot of prominence on Main Street.)

Since both candidates are incapable of speech, it's been impossible to determine their platforms, or even which party they represent. "We're trying to be careful and not be biased, because we have a split here in City Hall, and some of us are outnumbered," Piquette says.

But a split between parties, she adds, "is kind of a Colorado thing."

More blind ambition: "I still say we look like Iraqi prisoners," said Bruce Black, standing in front of Fountain's city hall in eighty-degree heat with a black sack pulled over his head. Three of his closest friends, also hooded, nodded in agreement.

The foursome had just finished simultaneously driving to the center of this southern Colorado town from four outlying points -- while wearing hoods, freaking blind as bats. And this madness was city-sanctioned!

The drivers, all members of Pikes Peak Prestidigitators, Society of American Magicians Assembly No. 170, performed the stunt to promote the group's 25th anniversary shows last weekend -- which could well have been the group's last, if the drive hadn't gone well.

"I went off the road twice, but at twenty miles per hour, you can stop, at least," explained Peter Tögel, the PPP's public-relations chairman, who also specializes in bullet-catching and Russian roulette. Togel, who'd practiced driving his assigned route "at least a hundred times," had Fountain city manager Greg Nyhoff as his co-pilot on the big day.

When fellow PPP member David Darnett, a detective with the Fountain Police Department, first approached his buddies in blue to help block off streets and guide traffic during the stunt, their reactions "ranged from laughter to looks of sheer astonishment," he reported. "A couple of the guys were like, 'Ha, ha, you've got to be kidding me.' But these magicians were really good. They bounced off a couple of curbs, and a couple of them headed toward a parked car but swerved off at the last minute."

Pick-up artist: Finally, proof positive that Halliburton Energy Services is not one with the axis of evil. Not entirely, anyway.

Despite activists' regular protestations that the oil-and-gas firm formerly headed by Vice President Dick Cheney is a war profiteer beset by corporate cronyism and generally responsible for screwing up America (the protesters promised to be out in force at Halliburton's annual meeting in Dallas May 19, wearing pig snouts and flying a twenty-foot balloon pig named Hallibacon), the company appears to have a soft underbelly. Or at least a hatred of litter.

Halliburton is a sponsor of the Colorado Adopt-A-Highway program -- but rather than make a big deal out of its do-goodness by adopting a place of prominence in the Denver metro area (where it could easily be trash-bombed by those snout-nosed kids that like to protest outside the company's 17th Street offices), the company is sponsoring a stretch of I-70 just outside the Western Slope town of Clifton. As part of its agreement with the highway department, Halliburton cleans trash out of the sagebrush at least four times a year and tries to separate any recyclables from the usual garbage.

Halliburton didn't return calls from Off Limits. Too bad, because we only wanted to know the worst piece of trash ever collected on its adopted stretch of highway -- a softball of a query, considering the questions some international reporters are asking these days. For example, why the Pentagon recently suspended $159.5 million in payments to a subsidiary of Halliburton for billing for meals it never provided to soldiers.

Oil for food? How about trash for cash?

Their bark is worse than their bite: Earlier this month, John Bennett, executive director of the Denver City Council, sent an e-mail to assorted lobbyists -- including usual suspects Maria Garcia Berry and Greg Kolomitz -- advising them that as of the May 10 meeting, "no lobbyist will be allowed in the Council front office during City Council meetings unless invited in for a discussion by a member of Council. Once the discussion with the Council member is over, the lobbyist should leave the front office. Lobbyists may watch the meeting from the Chamber or may remain in the main hallway." The action was being taken, he advised, because "some of our members have complained, justifiably so, that the lobbyists are crowding around doorways, interrupting conversations and so on."

The policy change -- which was followed a few days later by a heated council committee discussion of other proposals for regulating lobbyists, including having them wear name tags -- took at least one of those members by surprise. "I was not involved in the sudden decision to not let lobbyists in the Council front office during City Council meetings," Councilman Charlie Brown noted in his own e-mail to Bennett. "If this is now our official policy, we need to change the wording on our door to read '451 City Council Open -- Walk In (Pit Bulls and/or Lobbyists Excluded).'"


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