Yolo, California has a way of bringing the dark side of a man out. This became clear to me as a drunk Anthony Carion looked at me with a dead chicken in one hand, and a broken beer bottle in the other. "Come on, man. " Four other guys were surrounding us, including a young Chon Martinez. They had all recently declined Anthony's offer, which made me feel for the guy. Still, it was kind of hard to feel bad for somebody with a recently skinned chicken in their hand.
About an hour earlier, the six of us had all cracked the cap of our forty ounces, and were aimlessly walking around the small Northern California town of Yolo. None of us had jobs, and none of us cared much about the fact. Admittedly, I was a little uneasy around these guys. I knew Chon, who we just called 'Chris' back then, as he had been a regular among the parade of shady characters that frequented my former apartment one town over in Woodland. He had brought most of these guys with him during visits, but general drunkenness and frequent blunt sessions made it difficult to remember anything meaningful about them. I knew Anthony a little better than the rest, as he had hooked up weed for me a few times, and was a pretty easy going cat. The rest of them were a lower breed of felons and crank addicts whom I had occasionally caught wearing t-shirts or baseball caps that had gone missing from my old bedroom. However, it was a Tuesday afternoon and I was sipping on 40 ounces of Magnum, making me less discriminative of who I kept as company. We were just strolling around the small town, reminiscing about previous intoxications (". . . this one time, I was sooo fucked up. . . ") and talking about the current state of west coast hip hop. The sun was shining through the trees, a slight breeze was blowing by us, and everything was right with the world.
One by one, we all began to finish our beers, and started to make our way to Yolo's small convenience store. It turned out that nobody had any money, so after some quick, but unsuccessful bargaining with the store's proprietor, Yogi, we moved on. A creek ran directly across the street from said store, and we headed towards it as we plotted our next move for scoring more malt liquor. There was a big, cement drainage pipe that stuck a bit out of the ground near the creek, and made for a nice makeshift bench. An amateur tagger had recently covered it with crude lettering, and after a brief session of critiquing his work, we sat down and continued our buzzed discussion on how to raise some quick funds. As it turned out, Yolo was full of scavengers, so searching for cans was out of the question. Most of us had borrowed a couple bucks from our respective mothers to get the last forty, so asking for more probably wouldn't work. Somebody suggested a beer run, but Yogi knew all of us well enough to identify us to the local sheriff, and the nearest store was miles away. Disappointment was setting in until Chris interrupted our silent lamenting...
"Anthony... bust open that bottle of change you have in your room. I seen hella nickels!"
All eyes turned to Anthony, who had been staring blankly in the air. Chris, with thoughts of a second forty ounce dancing in his head, spoke up.
"Shhhh... I hear a chicken. "
Yolo was relatively rural, so it wasn't uncommon for a family to have chickens, goats or the occasional llama in their yard. Still, we all began staring stupidly into the air, listening for Anthony's chicken. One of the surlier members of our group was less willing.
"There's chicken's all over Yolo, fool. "
"Yeah, but not around here. One got out. "
Even though he appeared to be your run-of-the-mill hooligan, Anthony was really a country boy in baggy shorts. Having lived in the country area surrounding Yolo, he would often drop interesting facts about animals and nature. Without saying a word, he started walking back towards the area of Yogi's store. We all followed him, with no idea of what he would do next. Sure enough, a lone white chicken had escaped from its’ yard, and was making a run for it down 3rd street. Anthony walked up about 10 feet away from it before stopping. The rest of us slowly joined him, trying to figure out what he had in mind. After a silent pause, he turned around with a snaggle-toothed smile.
"Let's eat it. "
And he was serious, too. Those who knew him well probably knew it, but the rest of us didn't believe that he'd actually kill, cook and eat the motherfucker. We decided to go along with him, just to see how far he'd take it, mostly because it would give us something to do for the next half hour. What came next was ugly.
We moved back to the nearby creek and watched Anthony try to kill the runaway chicken. I don't doubt that he spent many afternoons of his youth doing the same thing, but that didn't make him any more of a graceful chicken slaughterer. Half of us laughed while the other half cringed as he took turns hitting the it with a rock and stepping on its’ head with his dusty Nikes. This went on for a solid five minutes as he unsuccessfully tried to thrash the life out of it. We had almost gotten bored by the entire process when he finally managed to snuff it out. Taking a close look at its’ mangled body as he held it in front of his face, he confirmed his success.
"It's dead. " I was beginning to fear that he might have been serious about eating it.
"What about the feathers?"
"I'll pluck him. " He was real casual in saying this, which confirmed my fear. How many chickens had this guy plucked in his day? He took a seat on the drainage vent and started yanking at the feathers, leaving a small pile of white in between his shoes. This went on for a while, as the rest of us half watched and told stories about people who had recently been jumped. Eventually, Anthony was satisfied with his work and held out the featherless chicken for us to see. It looked a lot less shocking at this point, its’ dark pink body looking like something you might see hanging in the window of a Chinese deli. Not being intimately familiar with the biology of a chicken, Anthony had to explain the next step to us.
"There's like this outer skin all over it, and we gotta cut it off before we cook it. " I liked how he kept saying 'we,' when it was clear that he would be the one that performing any duties involving skinning a dead bird.
"Anybody got a knife?" Surprisingly, none of us did. Most of us had made a habit of keeping a box cutter handy. We said it was just in case any trouble popped off, and some of us believed it. The truth was that they just came in handy for neatly splitting blunts. However, we all came up empty that afternoon. Instructed to look for something sharp, we all began surveying the creek side area. I had started to get tired with the whole idea, but there was something primal about a bunch of dudes looking for something sharp enough to cut through skin with, and I guess I just got caught up in the experience. Before long, I came across a broken, beer bottle bottom that had probably been discarded months ago.
"Will this work?" I walked up to Anthony as a few others joined us to see what I had found.
"Let me see. . . " He held the broken shard of glass in his hand and analyzed its sharper edges. Silently, he returned to his seat and stared hacking away at the chicken flesh with the crude instrument. Any doubt that he was bluffing was now wiped clear from everyone's mind, and some began to admit that they had no plans in partaking in the eventual eating of the bird. Others, including myself, just kept watching him slice and peel away at the meat, fascinated by his savagery. The outer membrane was pulled away revealing a more familiar version of a raw chicken underneath. Once this was removed, he began sawing away at the neck and feet. Considering that he was operating with a broken beer bottle, his work was surprisingly clean.
"We're gonna need a fire, so go get some sticks and shit to start it with. . ." A few people wandered off into some nearby brush to collect kindling. Chon, remembering that a convenience store was only a few yards away, resumed his effort to get some beer. Although none of us had enough to purchase a $1. 25 forty ounce, we might be able to share one if we pooled our pocket change. His chicken preparations nearly complete, Anthony liked the idea.
"Yeah, some beer and some chickens sounds fuckin' good right now. "
"Fuck that shit. I'll drink some beer, but I ain't fuckin' with that chicken. You gotta be crazy to eat that dirty shit. "
"Then don't eat it. I'm going to, though. " And it was, in fact, dirty. Television and mothers had warned us of the dangers of raw chicken and the nastiness that came with it. Plus, this one had been carved up with a dusty shard of a beer bottle. Eating this bird was potentially dangerous, which was the only reason I even considered eating it. As I weighed the threat of dead chicken bacteria in my head, Anthony thrust the raw bird in my direction.
"What about you?" I stared at if for a second. It certainly didn't look appetizing, but I figured this was too strange of an opportunity to pass up. Besides, I would have no problem with, ahem... 'chickening' out at the last second.
"Come on. "
"*Buuurp*. . . yeah, what the hell. " Chon had collected enough for a single forty, and a few guys accompanied him to Yogi's to ensure themselves a sip. Anthony, who was now holding the skinned chicken like a freshly caught fish, was inspecting a tree branch he planned to use to roast the bird over the fire with.
"I wish we had some barbeque sauce. "
Soon, a respectable fire was burning, and a sad mixture of saliva and malt liquor was swirling around the bottom of the otherwise empty forty ounce. The bird occasionally let out a crackle as it roasted over the flame. It began to look more like 'food,' but was more shriveled and leathery than your standard barbecued chicken. Most of us smoked cigarettes and didn't say much, save for the occasional criticism.
"That shit looks burned, bro. "
"Shut the fuck up. "
I was holding on to the tip of the chickens' crusty little wing as Anthony pulled the rest of the chicken in the other direction. The bird was tough and it was making me regret agreeing to eat a piece of it. Anthony, having taken a bite directly out of the cooked breast, had a look on his face that indicated it hadn't tasted exactly as he had expected it to, but I could tell he was satisfied by the impromptu meal. After a bit of chicken yanking, I stood there staring at the charred wing, wondering if this would boost my street cred in any measurable way. Having been the only other person to partake in the meal, Anthony was already working on his second piece.
"Ahh, fuck it. " I bit a piece off and swirled it around in my mouth. People often described stuff that doesn't taste like anything as, "tasting like chicken." Well, this didn't taste like anything, and it didn't taste like chicken. The closest thing I could think of would be burnt denim with the texture of old chewing gum that you'd find stuck to the bottom of a desk. I gnawed on the wing for bit, and felt like a man.
"Man, y'all gonna get salmonella or something. "
"Shut the fuck up. "
I ate a few more bites and called it a day. Chon tried throwing the uneaten remainder of the chicken into the creek, but came up slightly short, chucking it into a pile of nearby muddy water. Anthony and I gave each other a fist pound, proverbial chicken brothers. As we continued our trek through town, I kept worrying that my stomach would start to ache at any moment. It never did, though, which made feel me feel like quite the savage. Ever since the chicken incident at the creek, I've eaten donuts off the floor, stale chips and a taco that I found on a bus stop bench. Each time, somebody has scolded me about the unsanitary conditions of my snack, and each time I give the same answer. . .
"Maaan, this is nothing. This one time I was at the creek in Yolo, right? And Yolo, California has a way of bringing the dark side of a man out. . . "