Occasional Prose

Marrow Minded (Things Heard and Said)

“Who cooked this chicken?”

Oh boy, I thought. Here we go again. One of the managers was already on the scene, trying to reason and match step with the next round of this belligerent ballet. I knew the drill. Just stay in the kitchen.

“Can I help you?” the manager asked. “What seems to be the problem?”

“Is your cook trying to kill us? There is pink in the chicken!”

I could tell you of how I’ve been through the food handler’s safety course three times, been working in kitchens for thirteen years (twelve as a cook), and even suggest that I’m not the type of person who would willingly put a sub-par product out on the line. But I’m sure you are well aware that anyone could say that and probably would to cover their tracks. It really wouldn’t matter: there are folks who just don’t care. Time and experience doesn’t matter if you don’t care about what you’re doing.

But hey, how could they, or you, know for certain where I fell on that chess board?

Around this point in the conversation (a word I use loosely to describe the irate customer’s tirade) they would become experts on baking chicken. That was the point of contention. The baked chicken was always a point of contention. Why? Because there would be spots of pink in it.

Why would I admit that? You’re going to think I’m crazy . . .

I should turn back the clock. Let’s say ninety minutes. The chicken comes from the distributor in twenty-pound boxes. It’s a buffet, after all. The morning prep cooks distribute the bird onto sheet trays for easy access, half remaining bare and the other half coated in a dry batter for the fryer. It’s not ideal but I have certainly seen worse. I clock in around two o’clock, prep what I need for the evening, and then get ready to bake a tray. You season it liberally, flip it onto a rack placed on another sheet tray, and season the other side. You place it in the oven and time it for sixty-five minutes. When the timer goes, you stick the probe thermometer in the thickest part of the bird. Then you check different points around the tray to make sure the whole thing cooked evenly and thoroughly.

165 degrees at the bare minimum . . .

“I demand a refund!” I lost track of the conversation but was unsurprised that it came back to that. It always came back to that. But would the manager comp the meal or stand his ground? After all, there was no ground for the customer to stand on. They were in the wrong.

There’s a difference between pink chicken and chicken with some pink in it. Maybe you know the difference, and if you do, I applaud you. You won’t hear too much about it on the Food Network, or on some food blog that relishes in aesthetics, or even your cookbooks. Not typically, anyway. And I certainly understand why people would be rattled or concerned if they didn’t know about it. But here is the difference between the colors: a properly cooked bird–one that is up to temperature–will not have pink in it. If it is a light pink inside, then it probably didn’t reach temperature. And here is the even more important part, the tell-all of your cooking plight: does it have bones? Bones have a little something on the inside called marrow which will come out and color the cooked meat. But it is cooked and it is safe to eat. This will be a darker pink. This buffet used bone-in chicken.

Things sounded heated out there now, and the customer would not let up. I decided to come out since it wasn’t terribly busy. The customer was an older man with gray hair, glasses, and a knitted sweatshirt.

“Are you the cook?” he said to me. I was wearing a chef jacket and apron so I could understand his confusion.

“Yep, that’s me.”

“Your manager is trying to say that chicken gets pink inside of it when it bakes. I cook chicken all the time. It never has any pink in it!”

“How do you cook it? I need some pointers.” He didn’t think that was funny and he didn’t want to divulge his culinary secrets either. I continued with the usual, the same speech given a few times each week. “I assure you, the chicken is safe. As long as it reaches the correct internal temperature all over, it is safe to eat. Because it still has its bones, the marrow cooks out into the meat. The health inspectors will tell you the same thing. It is safe to eat.” Which was true. Contrary to what people thought in the kitchen, health inspectors were usually great to work with.

He turned back to the manager. “I want a refund!”

The manager sighed, defeated. “Okay.” This was a frequent battle and it was frequently lost. I felt a sense of defeat too that the customer managed to bully a comped meal out of him. It would usually end the same way too. The customer would be rude to the other staff but continue to return to the buffet for more. If they would listen or do a little digging around, they would find out that it was safe to eat. Was it pretty? Not really, but some folks love the taste of marrow. Most of the customers who ate the baked chicken knew that marrow would color the meat. Most of the customers weren’t entitled and looking for a fight a family buffet either.

The manager came back from the register and stood next to me. “Well, I wonder what he’ll complain about when he comes again tomorrow.”

“Does he come here regularly?” I asked.

“Yep. Regular enough. Anyway, back to it.” He went out to the dining area.

I turned around to go to the kitchen but was stopped by soft voice.

“Excuse me, sir?” I turned back around. It was a short, elderly lady who had walked up behind me. She had a piece of baked chicken on her plate.

“What can I do for you?” I asked.

“Well, I didn’t want to raise a fuss.”

“There’s no fuss at all,” I smiled. “What seems to be the problem?”

“Well, there’s a little bit of pink in my chicken . . .”

.

.

.

.

.

.

Author’s note: Things Heard and Said was an online diary of sorts back when the Unnecessary Blog was on Blogspot. The posts are fictionalized, though mostly true stories about some of life’s little absurdities. It is not chronological. Here is the previous and unrelated post in the series: The Ballad of Mickey, My Friend

Poetry

Again with the Noise

I reckon I wouldn’t change too much in my life

even if there are armies of skeletons

rattling and raving

behind the closet door.

I could hush the noise, perhaps,

but the utter silence always kills me.

Would I be an empty shell as they are

or would a marionette

be a more apt description?

I wouldn’t change the past, I suppose,

I couldn’t if I tried

but the noise

and the lack thereof

sure beg me to.

Occasional Prose

The Ballad of Mickey, My Friend (Things Heard and Said)

Back then, the television stroller in school seemed taller and the 19-inch square screen seemed massive. One teacher had a laserdisc to show us some science mumbo-jumbo, but the real favor was with the VHS tapes. It could also be a mixed blessing. On the one hand, maybe they would put on something interesting, or at least put on Timmy Tugboat or something like that. And at least Ms. Whiterance would leave us alone for the time being. On the other hand, it might be some decade old tape that flickered wildly on the screen and made awful noises as the tape scratched against whatever mechanisms that made it work. Worse yet, it might also be something educational.

It was a tape about bullying, as it turned out. Why we would need to watch a tape about that was anyone’s guess. Everyone in the room, including the teacher, seemed to have a pretty good grasp on what it was. The others had perfected the craft over time. Mickey, one of my closer friends, sat forward at his tiny desk to take thorough notes as some garbled synthesizer music projected out of the TV.

The first thought on my mind–verbally clarified by one of the others–was that the person on the screen deserved to be bullied. He was some middle-aged dweeb with a dork haircut and nerdy disposition. He had stepped in to save some younger looking dweeb with a dork haircut and a nerdy aura about him. The bullies on display were mere amateurs; I got told worse things on a daily basis from Mickey. Those kids on the screen (who were probably in nursing homes by the time we saw the tape) only said the boy looked funny.

The older guy looked into the camera, his face waving with the used-up tape, said something inaudible about being nice. “It doesn’t cost a thing for you to say nothing. It doesn’t cost a thing for you to say something nice. But once you say something mean, you can’t take that back.”

Someone was snoring by this point. Who could blame them? The lights were out and the windows gave us the full picture of the gray sky and diagonal rainfall. Others were fixated on that. Others were drawing pictures or making those paper finger games that answered life’s burning questions. Who knew colors and numbers had such insight? Still others were hanging on to consciousness for dear life, afraid that Ms. Whiterance would notice them sleeping and belittle them in front of the class. It wasn’t until high school English class that we realized she was immortalized in history though never mentioned by name at the bequest of Grendel’s mother; Ms. Whiterance really scared that woman. I stared around the room to see what was going on and accidently made eye contact with her. Her eyes glowed like a cat’s and it was enough for me to turn back toward the screen. It was only out of the corner of my eye that I saw Mickey transfixed by the program.

It made me wonder what fresh torture and torment awaited me and the others when we would have recess again. With the rain, it would likely be inside today. But one could always do some damage with the kickball, the jump rope, the wiffleball bat, or even the two hands and feet you had. Mickey liked to hit his closest friends on the groin and kick the shins of those he was indifferent to. I never took up cussing until junior high but even as his friend, Mickey could be a real bastard.

I lost track of the bullying movie because we would all be kinesthetic learners soon enough. It came to a close and the static took over the screen. Ms. Whiterance rushed over to turn it off and turn on the lights. It was a brief moment that we kids had to reevaluate our lives and where we wanted to be in five years, or more likely, in five seconds. Her grunt was as if a growl that shook the dropped ceiling and made the fluorescent lights blink like lightning. Had you heard her voice, it would have seemed indecipherable. But to us learned pupils of the first grade, we understood the dialect and vernacular. She had hissed that it was now time for recess. “Go down to the gym,” she said in a tone two decibels lower than a banshee.

We were expected to walk single file to the gym, and I always preferred to be the caboose of the train. It was a frightening place to be since all would be made known there. The alternative was not knowing what happened. And on this day I watched as a stray student or two dared to jump to one of the tiles on the floor instead of staying in the line. The teacher would send them to some unspoken place, the dreams of recess dashed with a precision unknown to humanity. She would shatter that one moment of reprieve for the students. It was not out of necessity for order, nor did she do so with the intention of correction. Ms. Whiterance just enjoyed power and suffering with the scale tipped to the former.

Now, I liked recess and had no problem staying focused enough to get there. But recess was just a changing of the guard: Ms. Whiterance for Mickey. We were set loose in the old gym and knew where to find the equipment we needed. She would leave us there to chain smoke a half dozen cigarettes in the allotted twenty-minute time frame. Freedom is always great until you need protecting. A big kid like me should have known how to defend myself but I excelled more as a doormat.

The popular kids decided today was kickball day. That was fine by me. I liked kickball. I was even good at the kicking, not so much with the base running though. Mickey was on my team and preoccupied with the game, thankfully. He liked kickball too.

Not long into the game, the bases were loaded and we had two outs. All the pressure in the world was no doubt somewhere else but I dare you to explain that to an unpopular first grader. All eyes were on me as the pitcher rolled the ball my direction. Under the stress, I missed the first kick and got a strike. There was an audible groan from my team. Then the pitcher rolled another and I kicked it, only for it to go out of bounds. This day would have no bearing on the rest of my life but I could feel something was about to happen. I would be the hero for this team and kick the ball to the stage: a home run.

The pitcher got hold of the ball again.

He drew it back.

He pitched.

I kicked.

And boy howdy, did that ball soar across the gym. That is, it soared upward and knocked a tile down from the drop ceiling. “You’re out!” the pitcher yelled, reminding us of the automatic out that type of play resulted in.

Some of the team were angry as we took the outfield. Mostly it was the usual insults. Moron. Idiot. Dweeb. Fatty. Things like that. But to my surprise, Mickey told them to shut up. He even kicked little Sammy in the shin. “Don’t talk to him like that! It costs you nothin’ to say nothin’!” And with Sammy crying and on the injured list, he, Mickey, and I had to sit out the rest of the game.

As we had our backs to the wall and watched the game proceed, Sammy sniffled and refused to look our direction. But I was thankful and trying not to beam, knowing that I had a friend like Mickey in my corner. He blankly watched the game go on like he had been watching the tape earlier. “Hey, Mickey, I just wanted to thank–“

Wham! Just like that, I felt a terrible pain from being hit on the crotch.

Mickey only shook his head and continued watching the game. “Why do you let them bully you, fatass?”

Poetry

Dancing in Utopia

Back and forth, this rocking chair

has one leg in the past,

dancing in utopia

of days that didn’t last.

One leg still remains right here

but it presents the now

which looks above and ahead

the sweat upon the brow.

Now, I can’t tell the future

but I can tell you this,

work or rocking chairs or dance–

with you it’s always bliss.

Poetry

The Point of No Return

To forget the sins of the past

is folly

all present things considered–

like where would we be?

what would we know?

who would we know?

Wouldn’t dare leave that

to chance or fate,

sun, moon, or stars.

You think that I’m a fool

but we’re both standing here now.

So now I must know:

did I forget something

or did you?

Poetry

Christmas Past

Gas station coffee

(or a cappuccino if you were

feeling brave)

perfectly complemented

the twinkling lights,

even if you had to drive circles

around the town

to make it seem

like a trip.

The music was lacking

on the AM/FM side

but it was nothing a worn-out disc

couldn’t fix.

George Strait, mostly.

A Fresh Cut Chriatmas.

Maybe some Mannheim Steamroller,

maybe that Celtic-inspired

Christmas album

that was picked up a few years ago

at the drug store.

Little lights and little things

to look forward to while the world

crumbled all around

and the town fast decayed,

far from a Hallmark Christmas

or a Coca-Cola wonderland

but most definitely

all the better for it.

Poetry

Happy Hour

The history tomorrow

is scattered moments today

carried off in a whirlwind

of future imaginations,

shaken, not stirred

into a flavored concoction

too bitter or too sweet

to drink;

the present and coming storms

and the twisting winds

of yesterday’s thoughts

bring rains to

keep the drink

full to its brim.

Poetry

#ThrowbackThursday

The good that I will to do

I do not do

but the evil I will not to do

I practice with each bitter

thought and recollection,

hoping for change

yet clutching to the bitter feelings

I try to put to death.

I can’t change the past, _______,

I won’t vilify you publicly

for what you did

but I won’t make excuses for you

as I once did.

I still love you, ______,

and I pray to God that we’ll both

grow in love and grace

and

forgiveness.

We don’t need the old memories

or a slew of new ones;

just peace,

my brother.

Just peace for the present.

.

.

.

.

.

Witness

Poetry

back in time

if i could go back in time

to take back those words i said

in haste

then i would ask for forgiveness

in light of my mistakes

with remorse and all alacrity and

with apology and action, still vulnerable,

because love is still

and it’s always there

as it’s the past’s and future’s present

from one soul to another

in patience, in kindness, in selflessness

to love more each day, your love being

the only thing i’d want . . .

if i could go back in time

Poetry

No One, P.O. Box: Somewhere

The box’s flag was now put down

so I rushed to get the mail,

I did not expect anything

since that’s all that came, no fail.

It was too soon and still I thought

there might be something in there

for I had mailed a letter to

No One

P.O. Box: Somewhere

To my surprise there was a note

there in that box most empty,

a letter–no return address–

with angry words aplenty.

“Do not reply, you callous fool,

rip this up like you agreed.

You will know it when you’re here

so don’t ruin it for me.”

That’s all he wrote within the note

but the story won’t end there,

I’ll write to future me again:

No One

P.O. Box: Somewhere