There are many gastronomic staples in the food chain that jar my taste buds right back to my childhood in beautiful Lyons, Illinois…or to be more specific, “chain” of franchises. As a Midwest gal at heart, I know the sheer bliss of my father walking in with sacks of White Castle Hamburgers…Mother was supremely fertile and sometimes it takes sacks to feed industrial-sized families. Some occasions just scream “Fancy” and those sacks represented fine dining to our economically challenged cult, I mean, family. And “slyders” were consistent in their quality, texture, and price point (back then). And those five little holes stamped in the center of each and every White Castle Hamburger—pure genius. These were, in fact, the earliest known form of “branding” in history—and a precursor to those crowd-pleasin’ “bugles” corn chips–which we donned as nail extensions, long before the “Lee” group ever conceived Press-On Nails. With the way MY mind works, one would think I would parlay those chip-tips into becoming a manicuring mogul, but I really missed the boat on THAT particular opportunity for fame and finger fortune. But I digress…
Whenever I speak to someone from the ‘hood, you just mention “sliders” and a certain look of bemusement appears in the lip area and they go into a dream sequence. And long before the whole “Harold and Kumar” saga, White Castle was associated with a certain element of “citizens” that enjoy imbibing of a particular herb…as I learned in those angst-filled “Wonder Years” of my youth. Heck, my younger sis manages the area White Castle near the town that I grew up and often finds her stepping over a former classmate of mine just to get out of the door and head for home in the wee hours after her shift. But by-golly-gee, White Castle slyders are as sacred as the cow they are composed of from my standpoint. However, I can’t help but wonder what did they DO with the leavins’ from all those holes being punched in their burgers? And whose job description was it to perform this function? And, did they put them back in the next burger? I guess it wouldn’t exactly be easy to market “Burger Holes” like Dunkin’ Donuts did with “Donut Holes”, would it? That would be silly and not a very filling sidekick to coffee—being that they would, in essence, be little dots of meat. Which, somehow, magically segways me into my tale of another franchise-offering of my dysfunctional youth…the artist formerly known as “Kentucky Fried Chicken”. And here is where my Kentucky Fried tale begins….
I’m not a connoisseur of chicken nor am I an affectionado of fowl, but I DO know how I like my KFC…spicy (Original Recipe…duh!), greasy, void of any recognizable nutritional value and served with a pock-marked smile, dammit. And with these high standards in mind, I visited the local KFC during my recent triumphant return to the Chicago area .
As many of my reader’s already are aware, I am currently touring the Midwest. Well, not exactly touring, so to speak, but visiting my brother’s home in Aurora , Illinois (Wayne’s World, Wayne’s World–Party Time…Excellent!) with my bro’s casa serving as my base of operations for “Krava by Kiki”. Yes, it is pathetic but I’m building an empire and that shit costs money. So here I am with my mother the parrot (yes, I’ve also brought “Gladys” the GPS) and our motley crew has a hankering for some KFC.
We are in a celebratory mood as my nephew is making his First Communion this Sunday. So we decide to have a little Pre-Communicant soiree and invite the “Colonel”. My nephew’s First Communion Rehearsal was at 7:00 p.m.—so, what better way to prepare to receive the Lord than with a belly full of fowl? So the parrot and I hop in the rental car and point it (with Gladys’s help) towards our local KFC on Reflection Drive in Naperville.
We roll into the parking lot and enter the familiar red and white building and the aroma of “11 herbs and spices” permeate our proboscises. I momentarily closed my eyes and inhaled deeply…not unlike when the mosquito sprayer truck would roll through the streets on warm summer nights and my posse would run behind and let the pesticides settle snugly in our developing lungs. Yes, that was pleasant enough…but THIS was better! And justlikethat…I’m back in Lyons, Illinois lickin’ my fingers and revelling in the austerity of it all—with a red and white bucket as an attractive centerpiece…for we reek of class! But I was not to remain lost in the moment for long–for I was lulled into a false sense of security…you betcha! And here’s why…
Let me preface this by saying and acknowledging that it was the dinner hour and to state that there were more than a few other chicken-cravers in the establishment would be an under-estimation on my part. But we soldiered on and took our place patiently in the rapidly-growing line that soon reached out the door…great hunter-gatherers that we were.
And heading up our KFC experience, was an army of ONE (1), who manned the register like he had recently been the recipient of a frontal lobotomy. Ah…another member in the “I Don’t Give a Damn About You” club of ever-growing franchisee clerks. He was expressionless, rarely blinked, and I believe was in fact, as expired as he chicken that was about to assault our pallets. OK, not everyone is as sunny and delightful as moi, so I pressed on.
After much discussion between the parrot and I, our despondent cashier was asked the question “How much chicken do we need to feed a family of 7?”. He looked at me like I had sprouted a third breast and shrugged. So we now established that he was still of this world and that one of those genetically-altered headless chickens they are growing in the back hadn’t turned him into a zombie. We muddled through this big life-altering decision, made our selections of Original Recipe, Extra Crispy, Grilled, and Boneless Chicken (poultry pimps that we are), Macaroni and Cheese, Potato Wedges, Cole Slaw, Sweet Corn, Biscuits and the VERY important two sides of Mashed Potatoes and Gravy (the kids’ fave and ONLY request). We also stipulated only white meat…not a social commentary but a better nutritional choice, we felt, in our 10,000 calorie meal (to accompany the Diet Coke at home). And then we had a serious lapse in judgement in presenting A COUPON…horrors!!!
Instantly, brain-dead man sprang to life to argue that our coupon for a free piece (ONE) of boneless chicken was verboten as it was to be used in conjunction with an 8-piece meal and we had voided this option by ordering MUCH MORE THAN THAT.
Seriously? I can’t make this shit up, people. I write about what I encounter in my everyday life and I’m NEVER out of subject matter…the pickins are sooooo ripe between Sparky the “Shushing” Waiter at Alta Mesa Country Club, Cox Cable (who now watch me through my cable box as they have marked me as a dissident), Hobby Lobby’s Homeland Security Detail of Herbie the Elf, and now, I am facing the insipid spawn of Harland Sanders…who shall be forever known to me for reference purposes in future ramblings of mine…as Foghorn Deadhorn.
We didn’t want to stare directly into those dead eyes that now were energized into a pinwheel state at the mere SUGGESTION that we might utilize a valid coupon on HIS WATCH (even though we had just laid out $60…silly US–we had ordered MORE THAN 8 PIECES!). We backed away slowly and sat down at a table to await our summons to retrieve our feast that was sure to be well worth the tongue lashing we had received at the wings of Foghorn.
The Parrot first had to brush away dead chicken crumbs off her chair and the palms of my hands glued themselves to the table top on contact. Holy Mother of God…my worst attack of OCD kicked in and I threw up in my mouth a little bit. This was a level of nasty befitting a chicken coop. But I was momentarily distracted by the eagle-eyed findings of the Parrot, that our receipt stated that we would, in fact, be receiving DARK MEAT! I swallowed the bile that had risen while mother rose to do battle…shielding her little chick from the crossfire of the zombie eyes of Deadhorn.
I knew this wasn’t going to be pretty. But as my father used to say, sometimes the right thing to do isn’t the easy thing to do. And so it was, the parrot marched into battle with receipt in hand as if Atlanta itself was burning behind her–for as God is her witness, and as long as there was breath in her body, she would NEVER have dark meat again!
The Parrot pushed forward to alert brain-dead man of his error in ringing up our order as requesting dark meat. There was a “sniff” and a loud exhale of air (from his mouth) and he had a word with the “cook” (and I use that term loosely) . Then he scowled at us and returned to his next victims…I mean, customers. What is that OTHER sound I hear? Oh yes, the Colonel doing flip-flops in his grave.
Finally, our order was ready and although I wanted to check our “bounty” for errors (I had a bad feeling about this) the fear that the leavins’ on the tables in the “restaurant” would eat through the cardboard containers stopped this urge. So we continued toward home—and, as suspected, our time in the chicken concentration camp had caused us to miss our guest of honor, my nephew, before his departure for First Communion rehearsal.
All the fun and festivities were only heightened when, it was discovered after a quick forage through our plastic red and white bags, that THERE WERE NO MASHED POTATOES IN SIGHT. Shocking.
The fam sat down to eat—minus the little man of the hour and soon discovered that the food really sucked “the big one”…with the CHICKEN being the suckiest. Oh the humanity of it all…all the mashed memories of a greasy, more succulent time where chicken was done, dare I say…RIGHT?
I understand that to some of you this may seem trivial and perhaps it is…but I promise you, it gets better. So my next move is what my readers would expect…I make THE CALL to the KFC on Reflection Drive to alert them to their lapse in servicing our complete chicken needs. And this is the conversation that followed:
Me: Ring, ring
Me: “May I speak to your manager?”
KFC: “There isn’t one”
Me: “Well, there must be someone in charge—I’ve had a problem with my food order and need to speak to someone that is acting as a supervisor.”
KFC: “Hold on”
What followed next was 7 entire minutes of hearing headless genetically-altered chicken being prepared. So I hung up and redialed…only to learn that my number was BLOCKED!
Soooooo—I called from my brother’s cell phone…for over an hour, and the phone just rang and rang.
I then contacted corporate and told them of my experience and they said they would follow up with me.
I did actually get a hold of the store manager the next day–who took a very dismissive and passive-aggressive attitude and offered me a bucket more of crappy chicken…no thanks. She also agreed to “investigate” (translation…”fuck off”) and get back to me. This was as sincere as the many men in my dating career that said “I’ll call you” or the many men I married that said “The check is in the mail” after I called them.
And so I write…and Foghorn Deadhorn joins the ranks of the others…the slack-jawed Herbie the Elf at Hobby Lobby, Sparky the Shushing, Jazz-Handed Waiter, and the cult that is Cox Cable.
And I close, a little sad in the knowledge that another oil-soaked memory of my youth had been defiled–the dream dashed and deep-fried into oblivion.