You men eat your dinner
eat your pork and beans
I eat more chicken any man ever seen
So goes the blues song, “Back Door Man,” written in 1961 by Willie Dixon for Howlin’ Wolf, and later immortalized by Jim Morrison and The Doors.
A “Back Door Man” is said to be a man who has an affair with a married woman while her husband’s away. In the song, the chicken line serves as a double entendre. Chicken-eating was rare in 1961. Per capita, consumption of pork doubled chicken consumption; not until 1985 did chicken consumption surpass pork consumption in the United States.
“I eat more chicken any man ever seen,” then, likely referred to the singer’s boast that married women cooked chicken for him and saved the less desirable pork and beans for their husbands.
I am not a “back door man”-at least not in any blues sense of the phrase. However, taken literally, that chicken line is my personal anthem: I really do eat more chicken any man ever seen.
In 2007, the typical American consumed about 87 pounds of chicken. My yearly chicken consumption equals about 525 pounds-a ½ chicken almost every single night.
Most nights, I eat a ½ roast chicken. I adore The French recipe, poulet en cocotte. I believe chicken should be brined. In Puerto Rico last winter, I ate a rotisserie chicken from the supermarket for seven consecutive evenings. I prefer dark meat. I tolerate people who prefer white meat, though I find this “preference” laughable. Chicken legs are finger-lickin’, robust, Whitmanesque. Dark meat, replete with B-vitamins, is more nutritious than white meat, too. I believe that chicken should be shared. Sundays, I share a whole roast chicken with my wife. Weekends, I grill chicken legs for friends and family.
This was not always the case. Growing up, I was not necessarily a prolific chicken-eater. Then, at twenty, I became a vehement vegetarian. Firm in my belief that I was nourishing my body (and, obviously, supporting the welfare of the earth and its creatures), I ate whole grains, beans, tempeh, raw fruits and vegetables-but no chicken. Skinny to begin (6″ 150 pounds), I slimmed down to beanpole dimensions (140 pounds). I acquired what Gabriel García Márquez, in One Hundred Years of Solitude, calls “the forlorn look that one sees in vegetarians.”
Some thought I was rigid. A Greek chorus of friends, family, everyone, really, except my supportive and loving vegetarian wife, said the same thing: Maybe you should eat some meat.
Perhaps they saw what I did not: vegetarianism was killing me. Throughout my early twenties, I suffered a variety of health problems. In my mid-twenties, my health issues evolved. At 26, I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. One year later, during my honeymoon in Barcelona, I checked into the hospital at 118 pounds, and was diagnosed with type-1 diabetes.
Remembering this time, I think of these lines from Tony Hoagland’s poem “Medicine”:
Daydreaming comes easy to the ill:
slowed down to the speed of waiting rooms,
you learn to hang suspended in the wallpaper,
to drift among the magazines and plants,
feeling a strange love
for the time that might be killing you.
I do not think I was unique in my stubborn will to remain vegetarian. We hang onto to diets, to ways of eating, even when they no longer make sense, don’t we? Often, we become attached to habits that might be killing us. Time, food, cigarettes–why do we maintain this “strange love”?
It wasn’t until my honeymoon in Barcelona, when I was hit by a car, and later diagnosed with type-1 diabetes, that I began to reconsider my vehemence.
Post-diagnosis, I spent 3 days in the ER, another 3 days in the hospital. When I was released from the hospital, equipped with a regime of insulin and needles, I felt my life had been cut in two. I knew who I used to be, but I had no idea who I might become.
That night in Barcelona, I fell asleep next to my new wife for the first time in seven days. Married only a month, we had spent a week apart–me in my hospital bed; her, returning to the flat alone after visiting hours had ended. Catalans are known for their late meals. I awoke around two in the morning, to a crisply delicious, salty smell. I stepped to the window and was hit by a waft of potato chips. I stuck my head out the window into the clear air. Smelling again, I realized I was mistaken. I hadn’t been smelling potato chips. No, a lunatic Catalan family was grilling at two o’clock in the morning. The scent struck me-the scent of grilled chicken, a veritable blizzard of aromatic compounds. Something about that scent struck my soul-it came to me deliciously intoning its simple message: You can change. You will survive. Eat chicken.
Since that time, seven years ago, I have eaten approximately ½ chicken almost every single night of my life.
Diet is the most idiosyncratic trait a person owns. Married people often share religious and political beliefs-but rarely the same diet. I admit, my chicken-eating habit might seem obsessive-akin in many ways to my prior vegetarianism. There is a difference, though: as a vegetarian, in pursuit of a “pure” body, I had viewed certain ways of eating as wrong or evil. Even as I refined my diet to an impossible degree, my health suffered. Today my diet is even more refined-and yet, I thrive.
I’ve abandoned the absurd belief that any way of eating is inherently right or wrong. I do not trust dietary dictums. In terms of food, my experience has taught me that the spirit with which you approach food is as important as the food itself.
How do you eat? In penance? With joy?
Food choices are vitally important to a type-1 diabetic. I had to re-learn my relationship with food in order to live healthfully. Every time I put food into my mouth, I must calculate the effect it will have upon my body, and I must make adjustments to my insulin regime accordingly. I cannot just eat whatever I want, whenever I want. I am bound by diabetes to live my life within proscribed boundaries.
Within these boundaries, though, I’ve discovered joy: perhaps it is a form of compulsion, but I enjoy eating the exact same thing every night. I know exactly how my body will react to chicken. I love the bluesy feeling of mirth, the wild joy of sucking on a chicken bone. I do not mean to be flippant. When I eat chicken I try to remember that I’m engaging in a significant moment–a moment that must be cherished, for it has been afforded to me through a great sacrifice of resources: land, energy, life. I cannot deny, though: to me, chicken is momentous. Chicken symbolizes my return to life.
Grilled Chicken with Pantry Spice Rub
Over-cooked chicken, like over-cooked steak, is an offensive abomination. A good way to precisely gauge the internal temperature of chicken is to use an instant-read thermometer. Optimal temperature varies between white and dark meat, typically the best chicken measures 160-165 degrees at the breast, and 165-170 degrees at the leg.
4 naturally raised whole chicken legs
6 tablespoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons brown sugar
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
4 medium garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon chile powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Dissolve the salt and brown sugar in a gallon-size plastic bag. Add the chicken, press out the air, seal, and refrigerate for 1 ½ to 2 hours.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl combine the olive oil, garlic cloves, and spices.
Remove the chicken from the brine, rinse, dry with paper towels. Rub the pantry spice rub all over the chicken parts.
Light your grill.
If using a charcoal grill, make a two-level fire by stacking most of the coals on one side of the grill. Place the rack on the grill, cover, and allow the grill and rack to heat up for 5 or so minutes. Cook the chicken over the hot coals until browned and crispy, 3-4 minutes per side. Move the chicken to the cooler part of the grill, continue to cook, skin-side up, and covered for 10 minutes. Turn, and continue for 5-7 minutes, until done.
If using a gas grill, turn all the burners to high and heat the grill until very hot, about 10 minutes. Leave one burner on high and turn the other burners to low. Cook the chicken over the hotter part of the grill, uncovered, until browned and crispy, 3-4 minutes per side. Move the chicken to the cooler part of the grill, continue to cook, skin-side up, and covered for 10 minutes. Turn, and continue for 5-7 minutes, until done.
I was finishing off a bowl of lingonberry porridge yesterday morning when a helicopter suddenly swooped past my window. As it hovered, sirens began to wail. Air horns blared. Whistles whistled. Itching to witness some good old-fashioned gore and violence, I grabbed my camera, favorite Batman blanket and matching gas mask, and sprinted to the normally serene river where I witnessed a scene of profoundly disturbing perversity:
This was the annual Kaljakellunta or “Beer Float.” It has no official organization and doesn’t actually exist until the first raft hits the water. It’s illegal and theoretically dangerous as hell, since the point of the whole thing is to drink as much beer as possible while floating down a feces-hued river.
Sweating with delight, I sat and waited for the police to arrive and club a few revelers into sobriety. I waited. Then I waited some more. I fell asleep. Because the funniest thing happened: nothing. The floats floated and sank. Drunks imbibed and drank. People flocked and gawked. And the cops didn’t do anything except tell kids not to hurl themselves off the highway overpass (which they did anyway).
And yes, that is an open flame edging ever closer to the trees:
Whereas in the United States and other nations the National Guard would be summoned to corral, contain and eradicate the revelers, the peaceful Finns instead take the opposite tack. Instead of complaining about the trash generated by the ad hoc festival, they simply hire a fleet of dumpsters. Ambulances and medic boats idle by. Motorcycle cops roam the river banks making sure the hordes of tipsy girls are peeing in the grass and not in the middle of the bike paths.
Then everyone vanishes, leaving the riverbanks looking like an exploded carnival:
But volunteers will soon scoop up the aftermath. Because they know what summer is like in Finland: thoroughly unexciting. Finns also understand the best way to cope with hundreds of drunken youths celebrating the zenith of summer is by watching from afar and reminding themselves that in mere months all of Finland will look like this:
Though I’d personally rather give my pet polar bear an unanesthetized neutering than float down a sludgy, pissed-in and beer-stinking river, I enjoy witnessing things like Beer Float. It’s yet another reason why summer in the Republic of Finn is unlike anywhere else in the world.
Indeed, the point of summer here is that there is no point. It’s downright languorous. People take saunas and visit their cottages. Old men sunbathe beside the bike paths in pink undies or none at all. Children squish strawberries between their toes. Seagulls perch on your windowsill and belt out hour-long arias. If you want to entertain your partner with a sexy sunset dinner, you have six or seven hours in which to do so (and if you wait an hour you can cap off your date with a nice sunrise grope session.)
Of course with only a blip of quasi-darkness in the wee hours, summer is, for an insomniac such as myself, blurry and largely incoherent. And from what I gather – based on the ceaseless revving of scooters and smashing of bottles on our street – Finns generally don’t sleep much either. But that’s ok. We have winter for that. And then the drinking won’t be celebratory, but mournful, and the idea of sunburned kids on rafts will seem like nothing but a cruel, distant joke.
We hear the phone first, and then the rifle shots spattering the darkness of the night—a night that holds its breath in fear. Patricia doesn’t touch me. In the dark, I hear her urgent whisper into my hear, “Something happened.”
arch. As in the curved part of her foot, which was adorned with a slightly more delicate fabric. Near the end of the decade, diminutive heels also emerged as an appropriate accent. This unraveling of decorum became the source of her great persuasive abilities.
coquette. One who chooses attire without considering its inevitable interpretation. In this case, her shoes were intricately laced and visible beneath the hem of a blue silk dress.
desire. Synonymous with the strange or unknowable. Consider the graceful arc of her ankle, its glistening rows of lacquer buttons.
emboss. To impress upon. At the time it was expected that the floral pattern around the toe remain hidden from view. This widespread anxiety gave way to a preoccupation with her evening slippers, their endless variety.
instep. In some circles considered the most seductive part of the Adelaide boot. For a series of illustrations, see Appendix B.
slipper. A reminder of the lakeside. Her luminous hair.
tapered. Defined as a shape that fades or becomes narrow. Along the coast such embellishments became increasingly popular, and so her attire fell out of fashion.
“For if there is a sin against life, it consists perhaps not so much in despairing of life as in hoping for another life and in eluding the implacable grandeur of this life.” -Albert Camus
Depending on one’s definition of “sin,” Corey Taylor has sinned much in the same way that Julia Child has prepared a few meals. In a sense, Taylor has approached life’s forbidden pleasures with the same relish and fearlessness that he brings to his music- each sin an exquisite opportunity to savor the limitless pleasures offered by every moment. The multi-platinum musician, father and best-selling author has, at the age of 37, inked a tattoo on mankind that will endure long after he has shuffled off his mortal coil. With his literary debut, Seven Deadly Sins: Settling the Argument Between Born Bad and Damaged Good (Da Capo Press, 2011), Corey Taylor delivers a unique spin on the rock star biography, foregoing the strip-mined territory of the rock and roll tell-all and instead incorporating tales of his excesses into an articulate, thought-provoking examination of sin, morality and the search for purpose.
“A road trip,” said Alex, sounding hopeful for the first time in a long time. “To see Gramma. We can visit her and then go to the beach. We can rent a cottage in Galveston. We can rent a condo.”
“A condo?” I said, clamping the phone to my ear with my shoulder as I gathered tomatoes in the produce aisle.
“I have some news, Lauren. Can you get away this weekend, so we can talk?”
December 20, 1860
South Carolina’s Secession Convention was called to order in Columbia on the 17th. For some delegates, this was a moment reached after a forty day sprint, and for others after a trek three decades in length, but all had come to proclaim their liberty and to sire a new nation, and the air was filled with promise and glory. “To dare! And again to dare! And without end to dare,” said the president of the convention, the scholar-planter D.F. Jamison, invoking the noble Danton’s defiance of the enemies of France. Inspired by his words, the convention then took as its first order of business the question of whether if it might dare move itself to Charleston. An outbreak of smallpox had erupted concurrently with the arrival of the delegates. Rumor had it that abolitionists had contaminated a box of rags with the disease in an effort to decapitate the rebellion, and many delegates thought it would be prudent to hightail the convention to Charleston on the four o’clock train. No, protested the longtime fire-eater William Porcher Miles, his voice acquiring the tone of a keyless bridegroom confronting a locked bed chamber on his wedding night. “We must not allow mockers to say that we were prepared to face a world in arms, but that we ran away from the smallpox.” The suitably chagrined delegates then voted unanimously to promise they would consider secession just as soon as they got to Charleston, but for now there was the matter of that train.
After being greeted in smallpoxless Charleston with applause, band music and a fifteen-gun salute, the delegates invested two days in procedures. Shortly after one o’clock on the 20th, however, the critical vote was cast, and by unanimous decision, South Carolina declared its independence. On the streets, delirium prevailed. As the bells of St. Michael’s Church pealed, the taverns disgorged their roisterers, who sang and marched and shot rockets into the air.
In the evening, a more solemn celebration was held. At 6:30, the members of the convention marched in ceremonious procession to the venerable Institute Hall, Jamieson at their head. He carried the official Secession Ordinance, a 23 inch by 28 inch rectangle of thick linen parchment which had been inscribed with the statement of dissolution and stamped with the great silver Seal of the State of South Carolina. As the procession entered the hall, a crowd of 3000 shouted and whistled its approval. Reverend John Bachman then blessed the proceedings, and the delegates were summoned forward, alphabetically by election district, to sign the document. It took about to hours for all 169 delegates to affix their names.
Ninety percent of these men are slave owners. Sixty percent of them own at least twenty slaves. Forty percent of them own at least fifty. Sixteen percent of them own a hundred slaves or more.
The final delegate to sign was the former governor, John Laurence Manning. Like Moses holding the tablets of Decalogue, Manning lifted the Ordinance above his head. Flanked by two palmetto trees, he was joined in this tableau by Jamieson, who proclaimed South Carolina to be an independent commonwealth. The members of the crowd cheered and cheered, and once the proceeding adjourned, pressed forward. Searching for souvenirs of the great moment, they began stripping the palmettos of their razor-sharp fronds, which they then waved about their heads like Napoleon’s mamelukes as they surged from the auditorium and waded into the pandemonium of the streets.
In Washington, a mood far more somber prevailed. The holiday season, normally an occasion for gaiety, has acquired a distinctly gloomy cast. Friends of decades’ standing now find themselves on opposite sides; men and women whose fathers stood with Washington on the battlefields of the revolution cannot bear to meet one another’s eye. Northerners visit only Northerners, and Southerners the same; and even at those occasions, the mood is heavy.
There was one party, however, that would not be postponed, that of the wedding of John Bouligny, the popular Congressman from Louisiana and one of the very few officials from the deep South who opposed secession, to Mary Parker, daughter of Washington’s wealthiest grocer. The bride’s father had produced a magnificent spectacle, filling his large home with roses and lilies and illuminated fountains. The president came, joined by his niece Harriet Lane, and was the first to kiss the bride. It was a happy event in a beautiful setting, reminiscent of so many other happy events and beautiful settings the president had enjoyed in his younger days as a diplomat in Russia and Great Britain. But soon the mood was broken by a commotion instigated by the entrance of Lawrence Keitt, the brash, bombastic, recently resigned congressman of South Carolina. Jumping, bellowing, waving a piece of paper over his head, he shouted “Thank God!” again and again. Finally he elaborated. “South Carolina has succeeded! Here’s the telegram! I feel like a boy let out of school.”
When eyes at last left the jubilant Keitt, they fell on Buchanan, his face ashen, who slumped in his chair as though he had been struck. “Madam,” he at last said, “might I beg you to have my carriage called?” And with that he returned to the White House, to resume his time on the rack.
You can’t escape Willa Cather’s shadow if you’re a Nebraskan. Who can best “the golden light seemed to be rippling through the curly grass like the tide racing in” when it comes to nailing dawn in that state? Cather makes any competing author just want to write about New York City. But it takes an exile to really see a landscape. She was not Nebraskan, she left the rolling hills of Virginia behind for remote Red Cloud at the tender age of nine and stayed only a decade. I am a native, but I too have the advantage of an exile’s perspective, having fled to New York after my own time in a small Nebraskan town. Cather is the eldest of seven children, I am the eldest of nine. We both had a Latin tutor, we both feared “we might die in a cornfield”—her words. But I am Bohemian.
The members of the Stay Classy Crew would like to make two critical announcements regarding TNB’s Literary Experience in San Diego on August 25, 2011:
The first is that beloved founder and dad-figure, Brad Listi, is stepping down from his slot reading at the event. In his stead, we are pleased to announce that one of TNB’s most popular (and often polarizing) authors will be taking his place.
Yes, we are pleased (and a teensy bit nervous) to announce that J. Angelus Dust will be Listi’s replacement for the event.
No further information is available at this time, but suffice to say, this is going to be one for the ages….
Novelist, blogger, poet, teacher, and pride of Bakersfield, NICK BELARDES is the author of Random Obsessions (2009), about which Jonathan Evison said, “For the reader who needs to know why the characters in Dilbert don’t have mouths, your oracle has arrived.”
He is the author of the book Lords: Part One and Small Places, the first Twitter novel, as well as the driving force behind the Random Writers Workshop and more Web sites than you can shake a virtual stick at.
One time, back when he was in school, something really embarrassing happened to him (hint: underpants were involved).
Another time, his…how shall we put this elegantly?…his wiener was smashed by a toilet seat.
D.R. Haney came to visit him in Bakersfield during a rainstorm.
He’s talked to alleged CIA operatives.
He’s talked to a woman named Julie.
He’s talked to himself.
Ladies and gentlemen, behold the magic of N.L. Belardes (and a pig from Akron, who is also magical).
The end happened
when you surfaced again
from the chemical water
in a half-filled sink.
It had been a kind of death
when I first captured you
or perhaps it was you who posed,
legs apart, to be wrung.
Potentially gone, your body,
when we departed.
But the old way
asked for patience and faith.
two dimensions, after
a moment of disappearance.
Now we enter a new age.