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THE OTHER SIDE?
by Wendy Anderson

It's the next to oldest question in the joke book and comes with subjectively hilarious variety of 'answers': Why did the chicken cross the road? Please indulge my pecking around at this because it absolutely fascinates me.

In some answers we explain the motivation. He was tied to the Rooster and presumably he crossed the road. My kids said that there was food on the other side and that's why. He was being chased by a dog. Seems a better motivation I think.

In some answers we question his spirituality. For the same reason that mankind must climb a mountain, chickenkind must cross the road: because it's there.

The ever present suspension of the belief that 'there must be a reason' and our search for it has compelled us to question chickens among other things. But to search out a reason is merely scratching the surface without learning anything about yourself or the chicken. To settle on the comfortable point that you know something because you found the reason behind it is to stop learning and growing all together. Martin H. Fischer has a quote I'm fond of: a conclusion is the place where you got tired of thinking. So lets take a closer look.

It started when I was writing a StarTrek book centering around Spocks character. He'd decided to hunt down humor in the story and that got me wondering what it really was. I found that locational commonality lent to humor. Southerners will share in a jest that northerners scratch their heads over. Racial commonality plays a role as well as gender generalities, political inclinations, truth and inconsistencies. But what actually pries a booming belly laugh from it's confines.

So I tried to think like Spock. Picturing him with the question of the chicken and the road was entertaining indeed. Kirk and the Doctor would be at the end of a great adventure, saved the galaxy again from some hideous fate. They would be in the Transporter room, Kirk and the Doctor would turn to Spock and, with knowing look and a wicked twinkle in his eye, the doctor would pose the question as the oldest human mystery. "Why did the chicken cross the road?" Both Kirk and the Doctor would laugh as they anticipated the raising of his eyebrow in thought. Spock would then begin to dutifully research chickens in an attempt to answer the question. I envision his final report to the captain to go something like this:

Weeks later, Kirk and the doctor are going over some crew reports in Kirks quarters when Spock shows up. "Captain, I believe I have an answer for you." Kirk slumps comfortably into his chair, data pad in hand. "Answer to what Spock?" he asks, having forgotten the joke they played on their friend. "Why did the chicken cross the road?"

The doctor looks up and grins. "It's a joke Spock. Humor. He did it to get to the other side."

"Unlikely Doctor."

Kirk then notices the multiple reports in Spocks hands. "You have reports?"

One by one he hands them to the Captain. "I began by compiling all known data relating to physiology, social habits, migration patterns, abnormalities, and nutritional requirements of chickens. I then cross referenced all known answers to the joke including non-terran members of Starfleet. Would it surprise you to know that almost every culture has a similar 'joke'? In every case the joke was merely intended to provoke deep thought and targeted introspection."

"It was a joke Spock." The doctor shakes his head and begins to chuckle lightly to himself.

"I am nothing if not thorough."

By now, the Doctor is giggling uncontrollably with Kirk not far behind. "What else did you find?" He says between gulps of air.

Undaunted by their jocularity, he continues. "Chickens are of lower intelligence in comparison to other fowl of similar physiology. It is therefore unlikely that they had any 'reason' for crossing the asphalt. However, a gravel or dirt road hold some possibility's that they may have confused the road with familiar territory but the percentage is low." "How low Spock?" Kirk asks covering his mouth with his hand in a undisguised attempt to appear serious.

"About 4,998.7 to one depending on the variables."

"Variables?" The Doctors voice warbles slightly as half a giggle gets caught in the question.

"Yes. Wind conditions, temperature, road conditions, vehicles, and other aberrant weather. Certainly the chicken wouldn't attempt such a crossing during a flood, tornado, hurricane or if it were a Japanese Chicken, a typhoon."

"Typhoon?!" Kirk can hold back no longer and brakes out into peals of laughter. So hearty is the exchange that Spock waits patiently for the noise to die down to deliver the rest of his report.

"In almost every animal species, the instinct to survive would override any supposed desire on the chickens part to 'get to the other side.' Furthermore, in reference to other answers, it is equally unlikely that the chicken would be tied to anything and survive long enough to get to the other side. I must point out as well that you have also presumed that the chicken had an emotional desire to cross and then did so. Without the proper research and observation it would not be possible to know this in one way or the other."

The Doctor, musters all his remaining control and stands toe to toe with Spock. "So what are you proposing? A mindmeld with a chicken?"

Spock folds his now empty hands behind him. " I ran 5,312 simulations before I came to that conclusion myself. So I approached the biology department about the question."

"No one reported..."

"They refused my request so I..." Spock looks vaguely uncomfortable. "You made off with a chicken?!" shouts the Doctor, obviously delighted at the prospect.

Kirk appears shocked. "You didn't!"

Spock tries to hold on to what was left of his dignity. "The Gallus gallus, to be precise, wasn't harmed in any way and I promptly returned her to her coop."

"So what did you find out?" The Doctor is so excited he's bouncing on his feet.

Spock fixes him with a long gaze before answering. "I found that while chickens aren't particularly bright, they are practical. The answer to the question is simple."

"Well, don't keep us waiting. What is it?"

Spock shrugs slightly as if it were obvious. "She told me that a question like that would have to be answered by the chicken who originally attempted the crossing. The answer would then be that only the chicken knows why it crossed the road."

"That's all?" The Doctor is clearly disappointed.

"I find the answer to be logical and complete. However, I was not able to locate any references to the fowl or it's descendants. So I'm afraid the question will remain a mystery. There is one other thing."

"And that would be..." Kirk prods.

"The chicken in question made a good point. She argued that a question like that would reveal more about the person asking it then the habits of chickens and I tend to agree with that assessment. He asked why we wanted to know. I didn't know what to tell him but assured him I would asked those who posed the question to me. So Captain, why did the person ask the chicken why it crossed the road?"

Well, I never sold the book but I had a blast just thinking about the exchange between them. And, I never answered the question of humor to my satisfaction but for some reason, I understand it a bit better for the searching. This whole wild goose, or chicken chase has reminded me that, in life it isn't the destination (answer) that's important or revealing about us or our world. It's the journey.

Wendy Anderson