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Old 12-01-2013, 06:48 AM
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Default Chapter 6

In the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia,

On December ninth my birthday was noted and it was decided that now that I was fourteen and had a social security number I should find a job and start earning money to help pay for my upkeep and maintenance. School was costly and there were gym clothes and shoes needed. Spring would mean graduation from junior high school, and I would have to be dressed for the graduation dance. Mother knew someone who owned a roadhouse restaurant called the Chanticleer who was in need of kitchen help. The hours were Wednesday through Sunday 4 p.m. to 8 p.m... It paid well, including whatever I wanted to eat. It was arranged for me to start work the following Wednesday.
When school got out that next Wednesday I watched the other kids load into the school bus, then turned and walked through the spitting snow towards my first real job.
I was now in full adolescence and excited to start a real job, thinking of the freedom that a manila pay envelope waiting for me at the end of each week would bring. As I walked a storm of ideas were rushing through my mind. There would be dollars, green dollars, of my very own which I would spend on new clothes.
First, I would buy that pink and black-checkered shirt in the front window of the Uptown Men’s Clothing store on Derry’s Main Street. Then the dark blue peg pants with the leopard stripes down the sides. Next would be a pair of fine ox-blood colored penny loafers with loud-heeled taps, no pennies for me in those little slots. There’d be three dimes in each one. That way I’d never be without cash. Then there would be the thin white leather belt for the pants and last, a black waterproof nylon jacket with crimson red V-shaped patches on the shoulders. And maybe, if there was money left over, I’d buy a knitted yellow tie. Yes sir, once I got rid of these farmers’ overalls and brogans and when the girls got a look at this cool cat, they would be falling at my feet.
These were my thoughts as I walked through snow and slush and entered the restaurants backdoor.
My mind storm immediately evaporated into a cloud of steam that was rushing up from underneath the huge dishwashing machine, even the penny loafers disappeared into a pile of unwashed glasses, plates and silverware. There on a chopping table were stacked a couple of dozen naked chickens, head and feet sticking out of the pile, like poorly stacked cord wood. As I stood there with my mouth agape, a small pair of wooden doors flew open, followed by a pair of long shapely legs, a tight short black skirt and a white blouse. Virginia had entered my life
She was a beautiful blond; .her bare arm was extended upward balancing a tray that sat on top of her graceful shoulder. From where I was standing I could see part of her bra and boobs. I was smitten. I was in heaven. I was impassioned. I was ready to cut up chickens, wash dishes; anything was possible at that moment.
“Oh,” she said. “You must be the new kid. Hi, I’m Virginia.” She set the tray down and with a tilt of her hip and a shove, slid everything off onto the wash table. “I’ll go get the boss and tell him you’re here.” With a smile and two words she departed, “Good Luck!”
‘Good luck? How could a kid be luckier than me,’ I thought, as my mind started to hum the tune, ‘Oh in the blue ridge mountains of Virginia, that’s where I want to be…’ I had just discovered the allures of a mature, provocative woman and my hormones were starting to boil.
The moment was lost as soon as the man walked into the kitchen. “Hi kid, my name is Phil but you can call me ‘sir.’. Why don’t you take off that coat and hang it over there on that that hooks.”
I did as directed and then Phil said.
“The rules for this job are very easy. All I want to hear from you is either silence or ‘yes sir.’ ‘No sir’ doesn’t exist in this kitchen. Got that?”
“Yes sir,” I said as my hormones dropped to freezing level.
“Good,” he said. “Ok, first thing you got do here is you cut up these chickens. Then put them in that pan. When the pan is full, stick ‘um in the cooler over there,” pointing at the huge white enamel cooler. Its walk- in door shining with chrome hinges and handles, reminding me of my step father Ernest’s 1951 Nash Ambassador.
“Here’s how you cut up a chicken,” Phil growled. “Come here and pay attention. I don’t got time to screw around back here,” he said. “I’m going to show you how to do this once and I repeat myself, Pay Attention! Got it?”
“Yes sir,” I stammered.
“Ok,” he said. “Here’s your knife. You know how to sharpen a knife?”
“Yes sir.”
“Good, keep it sharp,” he growled again. “I don’t want any bone splinters in these here birds.”
“Yes sir.”
“Ok first we gut it.” And he plunged the fourteen-inch knife into the abdomen until there was a hole big enough to stick his hand in. “Now while we got the knife in our hands and to save a bit of time. I usually cut off the head, wingtips and the feet’s. Like this Whack, whack, whack.”In one minute the chicken lay on the cutting board ready for step two.
“Now we clean it like this” then sticking his hand into the cavity he pulled forth the innards and cut them free, saying to me as he dumped the guts into a garbage can “Chickens cost money and I’m not working my ass off in this place to lose money, so we use the liver and, heart for giblets gravy.” I nodded and said, “Yes sir.”
“Be very careful not to cut into the intestines. I don’t want any chicken shit on the meat. Are you hearing me kid?” He looked up from the gutted bird and smiled.
“Yes sir.”
“Ok now we put the giblets in that pan,” pointing the knife in the general direction of several.
He scooped up the giblets and threw them in one of them. “Now watch this carefully kid..” He then shoved the blade into the stump of the neck until the point protruded out the rear.
With one swift pull Phil lifted the knife up and cut away one side of the backbone.” Now we do the other side the same way.” Neck bones, backbones, and the piece that went over the fence last were flipped into another bowl for stock.
“Now take your hands and spread the bird flat,” he said as he squashed the chicken’s carcass out upon the table exposing the breastbone, severed ribs and lungs. “Pull the lungs out like this.” Collecting them up in his fingers he flipped them down into the hole along with the innards. “Now see here,” he said pointing at the sides. “Pay attention, this is important,” he growled once more.
“Yes sir.” I imagined my eyes were the size of teacups. Crunch went the bones as he smashed down. “Now you can pull the ribs out with your fingers.” Rip, and out they came and into the hole they went.
“Now pull the breastbone out like this,” and with that he grasped the protruding bone, yanked it out much like a dentist pulling a tooth. The white triangle bone, once extracted, went into the hole with the rest of it. “Now you have to separate the wings from the carcass. See here.” He pointed to the flattened carcass. “Right here is the joint of the shoulder.” And as he slipped a knife through this bone, the wings fell right off. Slick as that. Slice went the knife and the wings fell away.
“There,” he said patting the carcass with his bloody hands with about the same affection my friend Mary Goodwin had patted me on my head one day. He put the bloody bird in the aluminum pan, wiped his hands on his apron, he said, “Ok, kid now you’re on your own. I got other things to do now. Take your time, try to do it right. You’ll probably screw up a couple times, but don’t worry you’ll get the hang of it. I’ll get back and I’ll help you after a while.” Heading out the door he stopped, turned around and said, “And for Christ sake, don’t cut yourself.”
“Yes sir.”
“I can do a bird every t minutes. It shouldn’t take you more than an hour to do the whole pile.” He walked through the swinging doors and vanishing from sight.
I stood there looking at the pile of chickens, the hole in the cutting board, the blood on the apron, the gloves hanging on the hook next to the cooler, piles of potatoes, piles of dishes both clean and dirty, the whole confusing scene and I was no longer a cocky teenager. I was not Hercules, I was suddenly just a little kid up to my neck in chickens and I wished my Aunt were there to help me.
Great Aunt Lillian cooked, fed and cleaned in her kitchen; she did the laundry, tended garden and all the other things that kept a minimum of ten people healthy, fed, clean and educated. She loved every day of her life and she did it with care and devotion. She maintained not only a household but took in unwanted children; summer borders and was secretary for the grange. All of these thoughts were flowing through my mind. I could hear her voice saying to me, ‘You can do it Joey. And if at first you fail, then try, try, try again.”
Feeling a bit better I put on the apron, took a chicken out of the pile, looked to see if the knife was still sharp and started whacking away. Half an hour later, the door flew open and Phil was back.
“Hi kid, how’s it going?” He asked.
I didn’t answer. He stepped over to the board and picked up one of the three pulverized poultry.
“Well, at least you got all the bones out.”
And with that he tossed it in the pan. He looked at the other two, picked out the wishbone and a piece of rib and then tossed them into the pan. “Ok,” he said. “Let’s get to work. We ain’t got all night.”
For the next half hour, we stood side by side at the cutting board, slicing and whacking until the whole pile was done and the pan was full of dressed chicken. “Put those birds in the cooler,” he said to me.
“Yes sir,” I replied. We washed and cleaned up. All this time he never said a word to me. Everything was put away; Phil lit a cigarette and offered me one which I gratefully accepted. . Then after a moment said to me, “Ok kid, let me show you how this thing works,” leading me over to the steaming dishwasher. “This is easy,” he said as we stood in front of its gaping mouth that was ready to swallow a rack of dishes that sat on the conveyer. He pointed to some switches and dials.
“This here dial will tell you the water temperature. Make sure it stays at 185 degrees. This here switch shuts it off. This one turns it on.” He flipped the red switch and the conveyer started to move, carrying the dishes in the rack inside to be washed. Water and steam came misting out and in minutes the rack rattled to a stop at the other end.
“Make sure you wear gloves when you handle these dishes,” he cautioned. “They’re real hot when they come out.”
By the end of the night, the can under the bench would be so full chicken offal and discarded parts I could barely carry it to the refuse container out back. “Hey kid, pay attention,” he said again. “When the clean plates come out, stack them over there where they belong. Same thing goes for the glasses, cups, and the silverware. I’ll be back. Think you understand how it works?”
“Yes sir.” And he was gone. He was right, it was easy and before I knew it, time to clean up and take out the trash and shut down the dishwasher had arrived. Phil came back in, looked around, showed me the clean-up routine and left me to mop the floor. When he returned he had two plates of deep fried chicken, French fries and corn, and we sat down at the table to eat. I was very hungry and cleaned the plate in no time. We finished eating, and then Phil asked me if I drank coffee and would I like another cigarette...
“Yes sir.” “How long have you been smoking Kid?” he asked as I took a long drag and inhaled. I thought about it a minute and answered him. “A couple of years now, I started when I was in the sixth grade.”
“Do you like dessert?”
“Yes sir.”
“Apple pie and ice cream ok?”
“Yes sir.” We ate and he never spoke until the pie and coffee were gone .Then he said to me, “You’re all right kid. For the first time you did a pretty good job. I think in a few days you’ll get the hang of it all. You know I’ll bet I’ve had 25 kids your age start working here. Most don’t make it past the chickens. At the end of the week we’ll see how you’re doing. And if you get faster with the chickens, I’ll give you a five-cent per hour raise. Now you better get home.”
I dressed, stepped out of the steaming kitchen and into the cold winter air. I felt good. I had my first real job and I was already going to get a raise. I trotted toward home whistling in the dark. The Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, that’s where I belonged,
I worked at the Chanticleer roadhouse and bar until Easter when it closed. I gave half of my earnings to my mother and the other half I got to keep. I had saved $60 for school clothes and went shopping at The Uptown Men´s Clothing Store.
Phil taught me quite a few things about life.
How to save time by being efficient. He also brought my ability to curse to the point of perfection. He made crude jokes about sex and masturbation. He saw everything that went on at the roadhouse. One time I was getting ready to empty some plates and glasses. He stopped me.
Wait, I want to show you something. See that plate with nothing left on it but leg bones and parsley?”
“Yes sir.”“Now look at the other plate.”
It was almost full of food. The chicken had been nibbled on as if by a mouse, same for the corn and the bread. “What do you make of that?” He asked.
“I don’t know Phil. Maybe the person wasn’t hungry.”
“No kid, that’s a woman’s plate. She’s a real good looker in her twenties or early thirties. She’s most likely here on a date. See that glass with lipstick on it? She left half of the beer, probably worried about getting laid later on. You can usually tell what kind of a person is out there by the kind of food that comes back. Families take the leftovers home. Old people always take everything. And usually eat the parsley. But good lookers on dates eat like birds. I’ve seen it time and time again. Remember that kid, its important information I’m giving you. Another important bit of wisdom I’m going to give you is never pass up an erection. If your dick gets stiff, visit Rosy Palm of the five sisters. I see you eyeballing that blond waitress and you ain’t got a chance. Best you gonna do is think about her and jack off.”
“Yes sir,” I replied.
At home in the night I’d think about Virginia and then take Phil’s advise. I think my mother knew what I was doing because one April afternoon when we were planting our garden she said, “Joe, you know that thing you got in your pants?”
“Yes?” I said somewhat embarrassed for it was a subject that had never come up in any conversation with my mother.
“Keep it there.”
"What a large volume of adventures may be grasped within this little span of life by him who interests his heart in everything"-Lawrence Sterne
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