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.

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