Chicken-Induced Flashback

Every once in awhile, I get something for the deli mixed in with my boxes. I put it in their refrigerator, which is usually full of chickens. If I’m lucky, it’s pieces that have been fried and will be put out for sale cold. They always smell wonderful (but not as good as the stuff over in the bakery). On my less lucky days, it’s the chickens that have been spitted for the rotisserie. These chickens are generally covered by a plastic sheet, but still smell like raw chicken (go figure).

Today it was different. It smelled like greasy fried chicken. It smelled just like my first job. I grew up in a blue-collar neighborhood just outside Detroit. Nobody had parents who could get them a job, so most of us ended up in fast food. McDonald’s was at the top of the heap. I had a friend who worked for McDonald’s her first summer. It was so bad, she took a kitchen job at a nursing home as a step up.

I ended up at a Kentucky Fried Chicken. It was kind of a weird building for fast food; rectangular with the short end facing the road. Lots of parking for the employees. Too bad most of us didn’t have cars. The front end had the counter and cash register. And a cooler with salads in it. The customers had to pick out their own side dishes – we were the epitome of customer service.

The back end was where the friers were. I guess the Health Department must have come around once in awhile, but it was really disgusting back there. Around the time I worked at KFC, there were rumors that one of the stores had mistakenly fried a rat and sent it home with a customer. It didn’t help that a little while later, someone shot a video of a KFC with rats running around behind the closed glass doors. If we served rats, no one complained.

Back then, the uniforms were orange stretch polyester. Ugly, hot and ill-fitting. And they retained the smell of chicken fat. It didn’t matter that I worked in the front of the store, I smelled like old frying fat. It was really a nauseating odor. As soon as I got off, I took a shower. My mother was really good about washing my uniform every day I worked. I think it was better than letting the smell have a chance of spreading through the house.

I had planned on working there during my senior year at high school. Unfortunately, teen tragedy struck. A bunch of my friends were going to a football game, and I had to work. I couldn’t get my mother to understand the trauma of missing a night out with boys. The boss was the same way.

One of the cooks was in a band. The band played at one of our school dances. Seeing him there was kinda cool. Except for the brown paper bag with whatever he was drinking. And the fact that he was so stoned that he could barely put two words together. Luckily he was playing drums, so he was at the back of the group. What a disappointment. And before I really had a chance to decide whether or not I thought he was cute.

The end was quick and painful. One night I was closing, and a drunk guy kept giving me trouble. This was before sexual harassment was an issue (for men). I went in the back, asking the manager to handle the guy. He kept sending me back out. I was too shy to really say anything to the manager, but, boy, if I saw him today…. (assuming I could remember what he looked like).

The next night I worked, the manager had some friends in while we closed. They all sat around talking and laughing while I worked. Finally I got fed up and told him I was leaving. He said I couldn’t do that. Guess what?

Afterwards I was so embarrassed I asked my dad to return my uniform and get my check.

A couple of years later, they moved to a much bigger building with an open cooking area. Much cleaner and the customers couldn’t get their hands on the food until they paid. Didn’t smell at all. The girls working there were much larger than I was/am. I’m guessing that’s how they dealt with the drunks.

I’m going to avoid the deli for a few days. The memory of those orange uniforms is giving me nightmares, and I haven’t been to bed yet.

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6 thoughts on “Chicken-Induced Flashback

  1. Ah.. I have (a few) fond memories of working at Kentucky Fried Chicken as a 15-year-old. I was twice caught in the men’s bathroom eating a 2-piece snack in the stall; and I was once rebuked by the manager for telling a customer at the counter that Col. Sanders was really a Nazi spy. Apparently, no one appreciate my sense of humor. But I wasn’t fired until I called out on a Friday night to study algebra. In fact, I was heading to an area lake to do some nighttime water skiing. Stupid me. Glad I grew up.

  2. It’s funny how a smell can trigger a long chain of memories like that.
    I cooked and ran restaurants for a living for a long time. I remember some places like what you described. Horror shows, all.

    • My dad was a commercial appliance repairman and was in the back end of most of the restaurants in the area. He refused to eat in almost any of them.

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