The best way I could think of to show the folks at my new job how honored I am to work with them was to, er, wear a chicken costume to work the other day.
One day, I know I'll tell this story from the stage as a funny motivational speaker. But this is the first place I'm sharing it. Here's what happened:
I’ve written about 50 columns for my major metropolitan newspaper since I started working there a few months back. But I don’t think the hundreds of employees at this journal could know the real me. That’s someone who respects what they do and feels honored to work among them. But aside from writing my heart out, how could I show them?
They are some of the best folks in the business. Terrific writers. Amazing reporters and editors. And most important, a thirst to keep getting better. That's rare, and that's the main reason I like this newspaper. After almost 40 years working for daily newspapers, I can see this is the best job I’ve ever had. I needed to show my gratitude in a way they'd remember. How could I put myself out there a bit in a way that would help them? How could I take a risk to show them I belonged?
Recently, an editor and a reporter in the newsroom decided to stage a contest to see who could cook the best chicken dish. They decided to turn it into a company-wide event. They’d cook, and the staff would pay to eat and then vote. Money would go to charity.
That’s when I remembered the chicken costume story. Long ago, I worked for a newspaper where the managing editor believed that employees had to have fun on the job to be productive. James Naughton was called a “serial prankster.” Before Naughton became an editor, he worked as the New York Times correspondent covering the 1976 presidential election. One time, he asked President Gerald Ford a question while wearing a chicken costume. It became legendary.
[In this photo, newspaper reporter Jim Naughton, right, interviews President Gerald Ford during the 1976 campaign.]
In this fuller explanation, Naughton's outfit is described as the most famous chicken costume in American journalism.
So in a nod to my old editor and his vital lesson about the need for fun at work, and in a nod to my new co-workers, unbeknownst to them, I showed up for work the day of the contest in my own special way. They howled with delight, even though they didn’t know, at first, who was behind the mask.
So that’s why I wore a chicken costume at work.
[The author, at center, with the two competitors in the Great Smothered Chicken Contest of 2013 at The Dallas Morning News. Winners Leona Allen, left, and Tawnell Hobbs, right. They helped raise hundreds of dollars for charity with their good-natured competition. The chicken counted the votes.]