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Monday, 13 October
Chicken Little Big Man

My last post may have given some of my tens of readers the impression that I look down upon fast food workers; not so. That they are shitty, brain-mauling jobs is undeniable, and the fact that folks regularly show up to do it is a marvel. And I also sympathize: like many of us, I have put in time at fast food joints, the first--of course--in high school, or rather right after high school and before I left for college, I worked in a former A&W. The owners got sick of paying the franchise fee, I guess, and so they turned it into the magnificent Burger Time. While I worked there as a fry cook for those three endless months, I managed to (1) have scorn heaped upon me for showing up in open-toed sandals--always a good idea around boiling hot grease; and (2) douse myself in boiling hot grease. Not the feet, though; a fryer slipped while I was trying to empty it, and I watched with mild unease as a sheet of oil played beautifully over my forearm. Some minutes later, my mom (an RN at the local hospital) was debreeding my wound while I writhed like a Phish melody.

But all that was kind of nothing compared to the legendary month I spent in college working at a KFC. It was Christmas break, and I was spending it with my girlfriend at her place in Portland. I needed money. So I applied at the local KFC, thinking, "Hey, fuck, I've done fast food, how bad can it be?"

Yeah.

When the manager looked at my application, he said a phrase I am never likely to hear again in my life (unless I return to fast food): "Aren't you overqualified?" Previous job experience at that point included things like doing surveying for the Forest Service, clean-up shifts at a sawmill, and jerking off during work study at my school's graduate law program. I had no reply to this unexpected question, so I believe I said, "Probably." Like a lot of college students, I was a real asshole, and had no idea of this unfortunate condition. Fortunately, the manager kind of liked me and hired me anyway. His first job for me? "Can you run over to Fred Meyer and get me some cigarettes?"

Uh, sure. His brand?

"Virginia Slims Menthol Light 100s." He handed me a couple bucks. Through a mighty force of will, I restrained myself from asking him what his drag persona was named.

(Bonus unrelated side story! I had another friend who smoked Virginia Slims--female. She called them "Vagina Slimes." Once she slipped and asked for them by that name from a clerk. Look, it was really funny at the time.)

Anyway, the job at KFC. I don't know what it's like now, but (pause for creaking of bones) back then, my first job in the morning was to deal with the dozens of refrigerated chickens I would be cooking during the day. They were pre-cut, of course, and mostly--that word is important--mostly eviscerated. The manager explained to me that parts of the bird weren't quite fully mauled yet: most of them still had their livers sitting there glommed onto the chilly corpses somehow, and what I had to do was dump all the carcasses in a sink full of cold water and kind of thumb the livers off the damn things.

This is just one aspect of the job where I was, I am shamed to say, less than diligent. If you lived in Portland, Oregon circa 1990, and you contracted a mysterious kind of deep-fried chicken hepatitis, you can come on over to my house some time and punch me in the face. Sorry about that.

I think there was some vein or something I was supposed to yank off the post-birds, but I didn't cotton much to that either. So really what was going on was, I was kind of just splish-splashing around in a mini-lake full of clammy poultry. I can assure you that I considered this the sexiest possible thing to be doing at nine am.

The rest of the work was just typical mindless drudgery: dump the undifferentiated chicken cadavers into a flour bath, add the SECRET SPICES (yes, they came in silver envelopes marked SECRET SPICES), throw them into the pneumatic silver pressure cooker (Made With Pride In The Howling Underworld City Of DisTM), rotate the stock. When bored--the manager really was a nice guy, leaving aside his deeply disturbing choice in cigarettes, and would tolerate a lot of fucking around--I of course turned to that great boyish pasttime called "What cool shit can I put in the deep fryer?" I always wanted to put a pair of gym socks in that fucker, but I always forgot to bring a spare pair.

I was not alone, of course, in my job. I had some notable coworkers, none of whose names I remember, but certain personalities are indelibly with me forever. For one, there was the kid who informed me that he was but fifteen, and had lied on his application to get the job. He was also, he explained, already intimately familiar with rehab, as he claimed he had a nasty coke habit. I didn't really believe him, and figured that he was engaging in some hyperbole; this attitude was curtailed somewhat after I--oh, Jesus, what an asshole--yes, bought some coke off of him. To make the scene even more horrifically sordid, when he gave it to me, I immediately marched into the bathroom in mid-shift and did a line off the toilet lid.

I will close this woeful little chapterlet of my life by pausing to note that there's a good reason people do coke off of mirrors as opposed to disgusting surfaces that happen to be the exact same color as the controlled substance: it's easier to fucking see. When I had ostensibly finished, I raised the toilet lid back up and observed a rather pricy shower of white powder fall down and drift onto the toilet rim and the bathroom floor.

There were others, of course: the counter staff was almost all women, of whom I remember two: one was perfectly nice, and not terribly smart, and had an almost supernatural fear of mishandling a "Mystery Shopper," those corporate in-house muckrakers that go to restaurants posing as customers, order food, and then go ram thermometers into the stuff in their cars while also making sure the cashier didn't fuck up the change or they didn't have to wait more than seven minutes for their chicken. She was possessed by the idea that she'd cut some terrific fart in front of the Mystery Shopper, or sneeze on his cole slaw. (Which could only be an improvement for that particular dish: nobody should ever eat cole slaw, for Christ's sake, but least of all from KFC. If I were to posit a Sentient Cabbage Universe, KFC would be Pol Pot, and he would carry a fearsome, Galactus-sized goo-gun of whitish slaw-slurry, and he would laugh and expose his grimy blocklike teeth while cabbages everywhere quaked and swooned. Just don't eat the cole slaw, all right?)

I also remember that counterperson because it was she who alerted me to some interesting information regarding the other regular countergirl: that is, the other countergirl had developed a hot crush for yours truly, and never mind the open fact that I had a girlfriend I was living with. Okay, well, hey, these things happen, right? "I'd watch out, though," I was told. "She gets kinda weird." How so, I wondered? "Well, a couple years ago, she carved 'COLIN JAMES HAY' into her arm. I've seen the scar when she changes."

I'm pretty sure that's the most fearsome phrase I've ever heard. So fearsome, in fact, that I doubted that my brain had processed it properly. It was the KFC cole slaw of verbal phrases. "Colin James Hay?" I repeated dumbly, racking my brain. "The lead singer from Men At Work?"

"I guess," said the lass. "I think she was in the hospital."

Hey, NO SHIT? Why isn't she STILL THERE? Let's leave aside the whole "I express my admiration through body mutilation" aspect for a second and focus on COLIN FUCKING JAMES JESUS CHRIST HAY! The world kind of skidded around under my feet as I contemplated this fresh horror: couldn't she have picked a slightly less mockable pop donut to get the whim-whams over? Jesus, even some terrible poodle like Dennis De Young would have worked.

I avoided the Colin James Hay girl like poison. She shot me shy smiles every now and then, and I'd immediately have visions of her pouring kerosene over herself in my parking lot, screaming out to the police negotiators, "SKOT KURRUK! HE REBUFFED MY CHICKEN-SCENTED ADVANCES! LET THIS BE MY REBUKE!" And then going up in tortured flames, like the career of Colin James Hay, while I was clapped in leg irons and carted off to her parents' house, where they would be allowed to slash at me with jagged tin can lids as recompense for ruining the life of their unbalanced daughter.

Fortunately, nothing of the sort ever happened. I ran out my month there (I had merrily lied to the manager about "having long-term goals," but he hardly seemed to be a stranger to employee turnover), and then went back to school, leaving the whole crew behind me, to whatever fates befell them.

There really isn't a proper ending to the tale, nor a moral, nor even a "where are they now?" (Educated guesses: Trailers? Jail? Possibly congress?) Other than perhaps this: If you find yourself being pursued by a person with questionable celebrity obsession issues, you could do worse than to buy some illegal drugs from a nascent reprobate and then do them up in a restaurant bathroom. Return to work. Ignore the chicken livers. Boil stuff in oil.

It's one of those lessons that we all have to learn.


Note: Comments are closed on old entries.

Comments

Hey man, don't underestimate the sexuality exuded by Colin Hay, that one wandering eye, and that crew cut. Besides, he was on Scrubs last season singing Overkill while playing his acoustic guitar on a gurney. I think your psycho admirer was prescient. This guy's here for the long haul.

Comment number: 001645   Posted by: i on October 14, 2003 04:46 AM from IP: 64.8.202.186

Once long ago, whilst working in the pepperoni purgatory that is Pizza Hut, I advised the Pizza Hut equivalent of a Mystery Shopper that the lasagna was overpriced and bland. I was fired shortly thereafter, but I went gentle into that good night knowing that I had done the right thing. I mean, letting someone pay eight bucks for three square inches of tepid pasta? I can't have that on my conscience. (Oddly, all the stealing and on-shift drinking I did bothers my conscience not a whit.)

Comment number: 001646   Posted by: Robin on October 14, 2003 09:04 AM from IP: 198.103.152.3

Your story has terrified me as all cautionary tales do. My only problem is that I do not know what not to do. I jusy want to stay home and not eat chicken now. Is that what you meant?

Comment number: 001647   Posted by: Johnny on October 14, 2003 09:06 AM from IP: 163.192.21.3

I've often considered writing a book about my experiences delivering pizzas for Pizza Hut in Las Vegas while I was in college. Boy would I have some stories to tell.
For my "Where are they now?" feature: They're all STILL THERE.
These guys are buying houses and raising families from their careers at Pizza Hut Delivery. We had a doctor with six kids, and a chiropractor, as delivery drivers. When they say tips are good in Vegas, trust me, it's true. I worked four hours a night and it covered all of my expenses through college.

Comment number: 001648   Posted by: dayment on October 14, 2003 10:39 AM from IP: 12.228.171.123

That's an awesome story! It reminds me just a bit of working as a pantry cook (essentially a fry cook)/dishwasher at an El Chico (Mexican food restaurant) while I was in high school. It was revolting, but going to work on acid was sometimes a little adventure.

Comment number: 001649   Posted by: dave on October 14, 2003 11:36 AM from IP: 12.109.16.140

And people like Nancy Reagan wonder why the youth of this country feel compelled to take drugs...

I never worked at a "QSR," but I did work at Swensen's in Georgetown (DC), which was run by 3 Iranian brothers who were obsessed with preventing people from using the (single, filthy) bathroom unless they bought something. One of their sons made the sandwiches, and he used to try and impress the rest of us with how long the ash on his cigarette could get before falling in. Apparently, a dyslexic typesetter designed their business cards, which read: "Swensen's. The best ice cream is there."

Comment number: 001650   Posted by: girlygirl on October 14, 2003 12:47 PM from IP: 66.167.239.169

Some people actually eat chicken livers, you know -- you probably didn't poison anyone. Isn't that good news? You would have known that if you had worked at the lovely Holly Farms Chicken: they actually serve chicken livers (imagine being up to your elbows in those every day!).

I had practically the same Christmas break one year -- it was extra long so I went to stay with a friend and got a job at some horrible fastfood (I've blocked out the name--maybe it was the aforementioned Holly Farms) place for a month. I was on the counter. I learned to hate customers. And giant industrial vacuums that seemed to get most of the dirt miraculous on YOU, the operator. The greasy, slightly creepy boss, at least a decade my senior, sent me a couple of love letters toward the end of my stay. Imagine my delight.

Comment number: 001651   Posted by: kath on October 14, 2003 05:05 PM from IP: 142.167.37.120

So now I am wildly curious. Why should we avoid the KFC cole slaw?

And after reading this, and seeing "cole slaw" printed so many times, where in the hell did the name come from? That is a weird name. Cole. Slaw.

Comment number: 001653   Posted by: Ombra on October 14, 2003 06:52 PM from IP: 68.35.235.24

it could be that i am a tired loopy college student ass-deep in midterms, but that was the funniest thing i have read in a long time. Skot, you have got some mad talent! so fucking funny! but i would never, ever consider working at a fast food joint. i would rather eat my own vom, thank you. so keep up the funny.

Comment number: 001654   Posted by: livie on October 14, 2003 09:13 PM from IP: 69.44.73.131

Ombra, don't take this to the bank, but I think that the term "cole slaw" finds its origins with the Dutch, progenitors of more than one culinary insult (see prior entries on such crimes as "stoemp" during my visit to Belgium).

As for why to avoid KFC's in particular: no concrete reason, other than it being fucking foul in the extreme. It's like wet crepe paper.

Comment number: 001658   Posted by: Skot on October 15, 2003 07:39 AM from IP: 140.107.120.123

Didn't Henry Rollins also work at Swensen's in Georgetown? Certainly explains some things.

Comment number: 001669   Posted by: Ali on October 15, 2003 05:41 PM from IP: 68.49.235.149

Gotcha. Thanks for that - the wet crepe paper made it all clear for me. I have recently suffered the "students decorating office with RIP birthday decorations and flood happening 2 days later," so I totally understand and will run with that description. Yikes.

Comment number: 001672   Posted by: Ombra on October 15, 2003 07:14 PM from IP: 68.35.235.24

The OED agrees with Skot, and has this for etymology: "a. Du. koolsla, reduced form of kool-salade, f. kool cabbage + salade, pronounced salā'e, s'lā. The form cold-slaw is a result of popular etymology." The earliest cite they have is 1794, but it could well be older than that.

While we're here, I'm not funny, but I have 23 dictionaries near me: "debreeding" should be "debriding." I know "debride" looks like the famous Chicago wedding song "here comes de bride," but it's only pronounced like you spelled it, not spelled like you spelled it.

Comment number: 001676   Posted by: Grant Barrett on October 16, 2003 10:57 AM from IP: 12.107.204.144

While we're here, I'm not funny, but I have 23 dictionaries near me: "debreeding" should be "debriding." I know "debride" looks like the famous Chicago wedding song "here comes de bride," but it's only pronounced like you spelled it, not spelled like you spelled it.

Hell's bells. You're right. However, at the moment, I'm too lazy to change it, but nice catch.

Comment number: 001677   Posted by: Skot on October 16, 2003 11:14 AM from IP: 140.107.120.123

You know, son, you've managed to put a nice crimp in any yen for KFC I might have had. (Having been car-less--definitely not careless--since May, there are a lot of drive-throughs I used to patronize, yet can do so no longer owing to their relative inaccessibility. The fact it would take a bus ride--and then waiting another 55 minutes for the next bus to get back home--has been what's kept me out of the nearest KFC thus far, but your lovely little tome here will definitely stop any pangs the next time I find myself a-hankerin for great big gobs of greasy grimy chicken parts.

What I wanted to comment on, though, was the fact I've *never* understood why people insist on doing LINES at all. Back inna day when I had quite the tidy little crank habit, I always found it far more efficacious to just stick me little straw in me little baggie and snort forthwith; I even got really good at doing this surreptitiously while driving, making it look like I was just blowing my nose (okay, well, maybe not if you were actually in the car with me, but a cop driving past could be and was fooled more than once).

Admittedly the first time I did this--while driving, in fact! No, this was NOT a co-factor as to why I have no car now, presumable as that may well seem--I inhaled such a large extent of crank that I temporarily left my body, which is pretty damned inconvenient when you're driving, but as you might have guessed...I'm an excellent driver. I'm not wearing my underwear...oh, wait, I am too.

But shortly thereafter I learned how to sniff a tad more judiciously and never again chose to go through the trouble of divvying up a line or two. Impatient youngest child with entitlement issues, 'n all dat. (My then-boyfriend at the time, the kind, cute, funny but ultimately wimpy Josh was appalled by said practice and was convinced I was going to kill myself by inhaling such vast quantities all at once. This enabled me to mock him for insisting on the wispy little "lines" method, which ultimately underscored [not a pun, sorry!] which one of us was HARDCORE, BABY, and which one wasn't. Hell, the fact that I was the one who went out and got the crank--or occasional coke--for us 99% of the time was in itself indicative of who wore the pants in that relationship. Why no, things *didn't* happen to work out between us, why do you ask? ;)

Admiringly if slightly nauseously yours,

Lilly

PS: You know, I used to earn my living by proofreading, yet I've never found myself inclined to volunteer such services totally unbidden. Gee, perfectionist much?

Comment number: 001679   Posted by: Lilly on October 16, 2003 05:54 PM from IP: 63.200.101.21

I'm making a living as a proofreader right now! Well, actually, they pay me an awful lot to read Skot's dizzyingly hilarious--not to mention gramatically sound--rants. I don't think I ever saw a typo or anything til last week. I'd tell you what it is but that would be rude. And free, which is not the capitalist way. Carry on, then!

Comment number: 001682   Posted by: Angie on October 17, 2003 12:44 PM from IP: 216.109.201.2

I, too, worked at KFC. I was 16.

An old woman named Agnes hand made the biscuits every day. She never washed her hands after going to the bathroom. The fry cook had a huge gap in his front teeth through which he'd spit into the oil to see if it was hot enough. I worked as a cashier.

One night I was standing around bored at my cash register. My fingers found an intriguing, mysterious button under the counter, so I pushed it. About 5 minutes later squad cars screeched into the parking lot with the blue lights blazing. The restaurant filled with cops. The mysterious button turned out to be a silent alarm.

Regarding the chicken livers: At the KFC where I worked both chicken livers AND gizzards were sold for consumption.

I'm a vegetarian now.

Comment number: 002013   Posted by: Laura on December 3, 2003 02:48 PM from IP: 68.157.59.26

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