I’ve seen a dead chicken fly. I flew too.
While in graduate school at the University of Georgia, I worked as a ticket agent for Southeastern Stages, and it was my best job ever. The camaraderie and joy have yet to be surpassed. Pranksters, we agents played jokes on one another and enjoyed good clean fun … most of the time.
Saturdays, two of us would drive to Church’s Chicken and bring back fried chicken for the gang. With apologies to the Colonel, it was finger-licking good. My chicken finger-licking days, however, would give way to chicken-dodging days for one’s destiny can change overnight.
Near the end of my master’s studies at the University of Georgia, my department chairman summoned me. “I’m going to give you 10 hours’ credit for teaching six months at a college in Columbia, South Carolina.”
Before I could say George W. Church I was in Gamecock Country. Six months? How about four years. Then I took a position writing about nature. About that time, I got remanded to the Correctional Institution of marriage. When you are young, you are not foolish. You are terminally foolish, but fried chicken offers salvation. Thanks to Church’s chicken I’d pull off a jailbreak and make my way into writing where each day is good, none of this better or worse nonsense.
I never liked being married. Made me feel like half a person, in prison no less. Like my growth was stunted. Like a serf or vassal. Formal education teaches us much but life teaches us more, a lot more. I watched others marry and divorce. Saw deception and disillusion. Witnessed the struggles, the draining of personality, the strain of splitting assets, the breaking of hearts, the breaking of families. Those who settled in? I noticed how veteran married couples seemed, well, I’ll just say it. Boring as hell. No spark. No zest. They don’t even talk in restaurants. Just sit and eat and eat and sit.
Marriage? A big thumbs down. Outside of family, I know of few good marriages and I try not to hang out with people with their ankles chained together. The borderless country of Matrimony? I threw my passport in the ditch. Writing gave me a companion for life, not for better or worse, but better, always.
Suffering gives a writer empathy they say. Makes a writer sensitive and thus a better writer … they say. Well, I say I ought to be the world’s best writer. I sense all right. Sense when to rhyme words. An alluring responsible woman? “Beautiful and dutiful.” A crotchety old man, “Crude and lewd.” When some minion says “my Mrs. the wife,” I sense strife, knife, as in the back, and life, as in a prison sentence. When some numbskull says “me and the spouse,” douse, as in ruining joy, grouse, not the game bird, and house, as in arrest, come to mind. “Matrimony?” Acrimony, alimony, testimony, baloney, and phony. But like many hapless young men, I fell victim to vows. I wed, which rhymes with dread, bled, and dead. I myself tied the knot in a hangman’s noose. Yep, I signed up to become a beat-down hangdog daddy pushing a grocery cart behind a wide four-letter word that rhymes with strife.
Things went downhill in a hurry. I should have never left my bus-station buddies but thank God my craving for Church’s Chicken followed me to Carolina. And that, my friend, brings me to the day a dead chicken sprang me out of jail.
My wife ordered me, ol’ hangdog daddy, to the grocery store solo, which meant for once I could appreciate the pretty women sure to be shopping. (No retribution. No mean stares or pinches.) My instructions were to procure bread, a gallon of milk, and Dr. Scholl’s heavy-duty corn remover. Gathering up my courage, I squeezed out eight life-changing words. “Do you want some Church’s chicken for dinner?”
Off I go to Big Star, my mind on chicken. I got milk. Got bread. Ah, a six-pack of Pearl beer would go well with hot fried chicken. Out the door I went. I picked up a box of chicken and headed home.
I placed the bread, milk, and beer on the counter. The warden comes to inventory things. “Where’s the corn remover?” (Corns must be hell. Don’t know. I never crammed a wedge of cheese into a matchbox.)
“Ah, crap, I’ll go back.”
“Well, you got beer, didn’t you. You got beer! Didn’t you! Didn’t you!” Her nostrils flared, her face reddened and twisted into a murderous visage, and I paled, knowing at once why men on safari fear cape buffaloes. In a spleen-splitting nanosecond of rage, she catapulted my box of Church’s fried chicken at my face. At my face.
Folks, you don’t forget moments when time stands still. Moments when nerve endings crackle and fire up the instinct for survival. Like some rocket-tracking camera, my eyes locked onto that spinning blue-and-white box hurdling at me. Though it was approaching escape velocity I could read “Just Like Home” and “Dig In.” Dig in hell. That’s when I ducked.
I looked up to see a breast fly out, then a leg, the other leg, then the other breast, all glistening in battered golden-fried-chicken splendor. The wings cut loose and lo and behold a jalapeno pepper shot free. A headless chicken trailed by a fluffy brown biscuit zoomed over, like one of those stadium flyovers. In horror I turned to see this featherless flight splat against fake pine paneling. Rivers of grease dribbled down the wood and all that glorious chicken hit the floor. Kersplat. Chicken carnage. In one of those miracles science can’t fathom, the jalapeno pepper landed square on the upright biscuit.
“Well, damn, look at that,” I said.
Then to myself, “I am outta here faster than a bat out of Hell.” And I was.
It took a day or so to flee for good, but soon I rented an apartment, took my dog, pickup truck, and TV with me and commenced to sleep on a brand new sofa bed from Rhodes Furniture. I had nothing but I had everything.
My first night in my new home? You guessed it. I enjoyed a fine meal of Church’s liberating fried chicken washed down by Pearl beer.
And that flying wall-splattering dead chicken? Well, I don’t know if the soon-to-be-ex chowed or not. Probably. Carnivores eat their kills. But let me tell you, it was the best fried chicken I never ate. It gave this old hangdog daddy his life back, and for that I thank you, George W. Church. I thank you to this day. I thank you every day. God bless you and your jalapeno peppers. Like them, I too knew just where to land — in a place all my own, a place called bachelorhood.