CHEAP EATS Gatorgator, my guest for dinner, asked to know some things about the chicken we were about to eat, so I set down my fork and started talking. It was almost like Grace. There was a very simple chicken broth with just pastina and scallions, à la Grandma Leone. And there was chicken pie, à la me. Gatorgator is vegetarian.
As you know, one of my favorite things in life is feeding meat to vegetarians. I love it when their taste buds go ding. I love it when that other thing kicks in, part yin, part yang, mostly neither, as the meat rips through their incisors. I love hearing about their hallucinations and trippy gut trips they go on after, because they don't have any meat-digesting enzymes anymore.
Anyway, Gatorgator hasn't been a vegetarian for very long. I used to eat meat with her all the time. Then she got fed up with hearing about chicken industry cruelty, and instead of cranking the stereo, or holding her ears and going woowoowoowoowoo, she became an ethical vegetarian. These are the ones that I prey on.
Hey, I have a happy happy chicken for you to eat, I tell them. It lived a long, soulful, free-range life and ate bugs and grass, and I sang songs to her and tried to teach her how to play the steel drum and lied down in the dirt with her, because that's the kind of chicken farmer I am.
They say, "Huh?"
Trust me, this chicken was highly entertained, and loved, I say. It died in my hands, and by my hand, and it died quickly and it died alive, and it will probably taste like crap because it was so old and outdoorsy. But it's not a chicken industry chicken. Want some?
Sometimes they do!
"The chicken had a name," I said to Gatorgator, in lieu of God. It was Grace. Not the chicken. This. This is Grace. The chicken's name was Houdini. "The chicken's name was Houdini," I said, eyes cast down. "I don't normally name them, but this one I did. I named her after Houdini, the other chicken that I named after Houdini Houdini, the escape artist." And I told my guest all the stories I have already told you, how she couldn't stay on one side of a fence, just like me, and got in trouble with the neighbors, just like me, and really loved pork, just like me, and developed a taste for her own eggs, just like me, and thereby distinguished and endeared herself to her farmer, even while signing her own death sentence. Just like me!
"Did you cry when you killed her?" my guest asked.
I was almost crying just talking about it. Gatorgator seemed on the verge too, and I was beginning to question the advisability of saying Grace before eating Houdini.
"I always cry when I kill a chicken," I said. "I sing to them, and I cry, and then after the ax I hyperventilate. It takes my breath away. With Houdini, I almost couldn't do it." I told her what I have already told you, how I had to go to sleep and wake up in the middle of the night, practically, and do it in my sleep, in the dark, without coffee. Gatorgator didn't know how close we came to having my hand for dinner.
"Delicious!" she said in her thank-you e-mail. "Houdini was awfully tasty," she said. "I feel privileged to have been able to take part in her life or afterlife." No mention of any druggy dreams, or bursts of surreality.
Sockywonk, who came in late for leftovers, e-mailed, "That chicken pie was the best thing I have ever had in my mouth!"
I hesitate to review my own meals, but it was surprisingly good the soup, but especially the pie. This was by far the best I've ever yet done with one of my own. So either I'm getting better at cooking down tough old hens, or Houdini had one last act of magic in her.
I know she had one last act of rebellion, one last laugh at my expense, as both Gatorgator and Sockywonk will attest, since they both saw me going around with packs of frozen peas rolled up in my shirtsleeve, and then bandages, salves, etc.
To them it probably looked like any old bad burn, but I'm being only partially poetic when I say that, three hours into her souping, while I was trying to break into her for some actual meat, finally, for the pie, Houdini jumped out of the pot and bit me.
I hope it scars.