Los Pollos Hermanos Part II

After what seemed like a two-hour trip we arrived at a farm in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of the night. The van pulled up to two large white makeshift barns. They must have been a mile long.  We parked and we sat there. We waited for what seemed like hours. Then a huge rumble shook us and could be heard coming up the country road. A truck came into view. It looked bigger than a normal 18 wheeler, but there was something different. It looked like a giant woolly mammoth skeleton. It pulled up and I realized they weren’t bones, they were cages. 

Countless metal bureaus waiting to be filled with both white and dark meat. That exact moment is when it happened. The moment I realized I would never look at work, restaurants, and chickens the same. The doors to the first barn opened as a gust of wind filled our lungs. KABOOM. I gagged. To describe that festering mass as a smell, wouldn’t justify just how terrifyingly wretched it was. I took a step closer to the door of the barn and squinted. I couldn’t get a glimpse of what it was. I couldn’t quite make out what my eyes were seeing. Before I knew it the zombies in the van jumped and were lost in the billowing blanket of funk. One of the men whipped around the corner and sped toward the cage ridden truck with a forklift. My eyes focused on the interior of the barn. For as far as the eye could see there was a white undulating mass covering the ground. A witch's cackle bounced off the walls of my head and rattled my brain. 

A wave of frightened, fidgeting, feathered beasts carpeted the ground from wall to wall. 32,000 chickens had just been woken. They do it at night so the chickens don’t have time to organize a counter-attack or some shit. The weary war-torn van riders transformed into agents of fate. Sent to deliver these chickens to their final resting place. I was in a daze stumbling around the barn catatonic. At first, I couldn’t stop laughing. I couldn’t believe this was happening. Eric, Pete and I were holding each other up each convulsing in fits of laughter. A guy grabbed me by the collar and yelled, “Start fucking grabbing em ya idiot!” The forklift had started bringing the cages into the barn and the men were already hard at work filling them. These “cages” if you can call them that, looked more like a dresser for clothes. They had metal slats on springs that would be snapped closed when filled with enough chickens. Each drawer had to have at least 20 chickens in each. My harasser shook me out of my stupefaction and told me I had to get at least a hand of chickens each time I grabbed them. “What the fuck is a hand of chickens,” I thought to myself. A hand meant seven chickens total. That means three in the left hand and four in the right, or vice versa. 

Seven chickens, I repeat, seven chickens in your two hands. Full grown, “free range” chickens weigh between 5-8 lbs. This means you have to grab a leg of each chicken. Three legs in one,  four in the other. The guy who was explaining this to me with a mouthful of tobacco and curse words said he could get 15 chickens normally. I shook my head in bewilderment. He smacked me on the back and told me to get to work. So I dove in. In case you didn’t know when chickens are scared they try to fly away and crap their pants. This means when you pick up one they go absolutely apeshit. Feathers, dirt, poop, fills the air. The job is so dirty that Mike Rowe did it, and hated it. I can't even imagine the damage we did to our lungs. Did I mention that chicken legs are very brittle and weak so you can feel them break in your hands when they try to get away? It's horrifying. Almost as horrifying as watching one exploded into dust as it gets run over by a 9,000 lbs forklift. I remember stuffing a few chickens into the slots and closing the gate as one stuck its head out. The gate closed and his cheeks puffed out like a cartoon. I opened the slate and pushed his head inside. That was the last humorous thing that happened that day. After hours of filling our lungs with putrid air, the first barn was done. The other workers simply went on to the next barn. No break, no downtime. 

The three of us staggered over to the cow pen where the smell was actually better. As we began to empty the second cow house, things started to calm down. The other workers were having conversations with each other about different things. What grade they dropped out at. How much time they had done. And many other topics that are wildly inappropriate for anything but a bordello. When the morning dawned we could finally see the actual cloud in the air. We cornered the last few chickens as they ran in terror. When it was all over we sat down by the van and thought about what we had just done. We were scarred for life. The foreman of this crew was the women, who drove the van. She told us that we would be paid like 0.0001 cents per pound. We had caught 64,000 chickens. 64,000 chickens sent to their doom at my hands. If they were people, they would make up the entire population of Lebanon, PA. We didn’t talk to anybody on the ride home. A few of the other workers tried to make conversation, expecting to see us again. We left that McDonalds' parking lot and barely said a word to each other in the car. Then suddenly we all started cracking up. Did that really just happen? We thought. I got home and took all my clothes off and left them on the porch. They would later be burned by my mother. I took three showers and still couldn’t get the smell out of my nose. Weeks later I received a check for about $93. I spent the next 6 months in clucking shell shock. I couldn’t even think about chicken. I had to eat alone anytime my family made chicken for dinner. After the trauma wore off I was finally ready to eat that white meat again. Do you know the first place I went? 

Where they serve only the oldest chickens no longer able to lay eggs, stripped down to the bone, and then ground up into a mash combined with a variety of stabilizers and preservatives, such as tertiary butylhydoquinone, a phenolic antioxidant used as a chemical preservative, polydimethylsiloxane, an anti-foaming agent, all pressed into familiar shapes, breaded and deep-fried, frozen, and shipped to your friendly neighborhood eatery. MMMMM GOOD.

Los Pollos Hermanos Part I

One summer, I was working in a warehouse. Unlike my other friends who were working there for the summer, I got placed in shipping and receiving. I spent most of the days inside a dirty disgusting big rig packed to the gills with boxes upon boxes of sneakers. We would unload the trucks onto a metal slide and put them onto palettes. That meant these palettes were about 10 feet high. Each box had to get scanned before it was taken off the truck. We had an efficient system. Two guys were in the truck throwing boxes onto the line as two full-timers used the scanners to check in each box. The rest of the crew feigned being busy. This old guy would just lean on the palette jack waiting for the boxes to get stacked, complaining about how hot it was and how things would be different if he was white. Since it was a warehouse a large portion of the people who worked there were temporary. Kids working there for the summer, recovering addicts, and people on work release. A guy named AJ who had done five years for hearsay as he told it, became a good friend of mine. You see only full-timers and summer kids could use the scan guns. They didn’t trust temps to use them and not steal them. This didn’t go over well with many of the temps, who were also upset we got paid more. It really isn’t their fault they went to jail, right? AJ had a barcode tattoo on the back of his neck that I would scan whenever his back was turned. He used to hate that. Every morning I’d stagger into work at six in the morning and he’d already been in the truck. I’d reach the opening of the truck and I’d hear a voice echo out of the belly of the beast. Out of the dark depths, I’d hear, “Fucking Andy’s coming.” It was AJ mimicking Chucky from Childs Play. I remember one day inviting him to eat lunch with me and my friends. 

I didn’t tell them because I wanted to see how the would react. He just sat down and started eating. Then he looked around and stared at my friend Eric, who was a red-head, was about to piss his pants. AJ yelled with a mouth full of burger, “What you looking at Rick Astley!” Eric quickly looked back at his plate and muttered nothing. AJ leaned across the table and ate Eric’s PB&J in one bite, “Fucking Pete and Pete looking muthafucka!” We all started laughing except for Eric. Eventually, he lightened up, but AJ busted his balls for the rest of the summer.

Anyway, one day we had just got done with a long work week and we were hanging out at Eric’s. We were looking for ways to make some extra money. We made decent money at Footlocker, but when one of your history books cost $200 alone, we needed something extra. Eric was looking through the classifieds when he stumbled upon a notice that would change my life. “Chicken Catchers Wanted.” That is all it said except for the number below it. What is a chicken catcher? We asked ourselves. 

Did they set traps? Did they use weapons or nets? Did they camouflage themselves and trudge out into the wilderness in hopes of bagging a big one? We were curious. Eric called the number and a woman answered on the other line. “Hello?” She answered brusquely as if she was doing ten things at once. “Quiet!” She yells at the apparent house full of kids she had running around her during this conversation. Eric asked her about the job to which she replied, “Are you sure you guys wanna do this?” That should have been our first hint that something was wrong. She said all we would need was a pair of gloves. Then she told us a van would pick us up by the McDonalds on Front Street in Harrisburg. We dressed in the most stereotypical redneck gear we could find and prepared for the worst. We even got a can of chewing tobacco at the gas station to get us in the mood. Me, Eric, and our boy Pete sat on the hood of the car and talked about the upcoming night. You see she told us the van would pick us up around midnight. As I was entertaining the boys with my best Larry the Cable Guy impersonation a white passenger van rolled up. A woman in the driver's seat rolls down the window and glares at us. I’m serious. She just stared at us. Didn’t say a word. It was obvious to her that we were the guys she was picking up. We walked around and slid open the door of the van. POW. A mushroom cloud of some type of fecal death spray saturated our eyes, mouths, and noses. The only thing weirder than the smell was the men originating it. Four rows of bench seating had one guy a piece. Two were passed out. One was rolling something into a cigarette. The last stared out the window apparently hoping that someday this all would end. 

They were all covered in dirt or shit. I’d like to say dirt, but I know it was shit. I sat next to stargazer and kept my mouth shut. A few minutes into the ride and my phone vibrates with a text. It’s from Pete. It read:  “Turn around.” I turned around. Eric was puking into his spit filled Gatorade bottle. The smell must've got to him. Maybe it was nerves. Maybe it was the fact that a van was driving us deep into the Pennsylvania wilderness in the middle of the night. People don't come back from stories like this, I thought. TO BE CONTINUED...

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