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Consumer Reports

Chicken-catcher appointment has ruffled feathers in Key West | (KRT) KEY WEST, Fla. — Oh, the rigors of sudden fame. The incessant ringing of the phone. Reporters dogging you at every turn. Strangers accosting you in the street, waving pen and paper, demanding autographs.

Such is the life for Armando Parra Sr., whose new job as Key West's official chicken catcher has turned him from humble Key West barber into a national, nay, international cause celebre.

"I've stopped answering the phone, I've gotta make a living here," a flustered Parra said Thursday morning to a roomful of hopefuls waiting to be shorn at the Conch Town Barber Shop, where Parra has worked for 27 years.

In the scant hours that elapsed since the City Commission voted Wednesday night to hire him to trap wild chickens for $20 apiece, Parra's celebrity quotient went through the roof.

Behind him, the phone rang and rang.

"I can't spend all day on the telephone!" he yelped to the hapless caller on the other end.

The storm of attention erupted two weeks ago, when Key West City Manager Julio Avael announced that the city was negotiating to hire a professional chicken catcher, namely Parra, a 63-year-old, third-generation Conch and lifelong barber who knew the ways of trapping birds.

Word had barely gotten out before Parra found himself fielding phone calls. Tearful, sleep-deprived women begged him to ferry away bansheelike roosters whose cock-a-doodle-doing lasted all night. Bawdy talk-show hosts called looking for a sound bite at 6 a.m. Newspapers, magazines and TV stations, including NBC and Telemundo, wanted in-depth analyses of what it took to catch a chicken.

An outing last week with a reporter from upstate compelled two people to ask for his autograph.

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"I never expected this when I applied," Parra said Thursday as another customer settled into his barber chair. He turned to the client: "Would you like that deep-fried or fricasseed?"

Assistant City Manager John Jones estimates that 2,000 wild fowl wander Key West's streets and wants to reduce their population by half. Jones said he has received 100 complaints from people fed up with the chickens' noisy all-night shenanigans, rampant defecation and propensity to uproot flower beds and wander into traffic. Parra's contract allows him to bag at most 900 birds and earn $18,000.

Ever-cognizant of widespread affection for the birds - which the city is shamelessly cashing in on with a four-day ChickenFest this June - as well as the zealotry of local chicken rights advocates, Jones vowed that the captured chickens would be relocated to a bucolic farm where they'll eat scorpions and insects and live in peace.

Parra, meanwhile, spent Thursday trying to run the snug, busy barbershop by himself while answering a barrage of questions from visitors streaming through the door.

No, he didn't need an assistant, thanks, not even one who worked on a 7,000-bird chicken farm.

No, he couldn't remove the roosters from the library steps, he had to go where the city sent him, and besides, the deal wasn't final.

Sure, he had advice on how to build a trap for wild guinea hens (this from a spiffily dressed older couple from Connecticut), but it would take too long to explain.

"Yesterday a man showed up with a hen, a rooster and two bitties," Parra said, using the Conch word for chicks. "He had them in his car."

Around him, regulars wagged their heads sympathetically and suggested, only half in jest, that Parra hire a secretary, a publicist, a stylist, an agent.

"I've had calls," he replied elusively and left it at that.

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© 2004, The Miami Herald Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services