SMOKE: The Adventures Of Chicken Man

Originally published: 31 October 2005

An old mate of mine - Duncan - was an inveterate Kentucky Fried Chicken-eater.

He spent a couple of months staying with me some years ago and just about every night he'd get himself into a fine old funk trying to decide what to eat.

He refused point blank to make any food and as he was rehearsing for and acting in a play he kept odd hours, which meant he survived solely on junk food.

His options were limited, however. He wasn't a mad pizza fan which meant his choices were Nando's, Bimbo's or KFC.

Invariably he chose KFC, simply because the Streetwise 5 was a huge meal which always seemed very appealing just before you bought it.

Duncan opened my eyes to the problems with KFC during this time, because his pattern never wavered.

He'd start agonising about what to eat from the moment he got home from rehearsals, and would always eliminate options until he got down to KFC.

He'd try and work out whether to get a different meal from them than normal, but always came back to the same conclusion: Streetwise 5 was the only way to go.

He'd always inspect the chicken pieces when they came, hating them to be freshly-cooked and still dripping oil. He liked them as dry as possible. He'd start his feast but would begin slowing about two pieces in, and he never finished a single meal.

Then he'd sit there with a green face, moaning on and on about how sick he was and swearing never, ever again to purchase another morsel from KFC.

The next night the same process would start all over again. It was brilliant.

The problem with KFC is that it always seems so enticing and it always smells so good, but once you've eaten a big meal like that you feel sick as a pike. Every single time.

I hadn't noticed it until Duncan pointed it out and ever since then I've undergone pretty much the same process as he did.

I've learned to refine my meals somewhat to make them not quite as nauseating, but every so often I'll get my KFC and end up writhing around with oil poisoning.

I never learn. Take the other night, for instance.

Tashi and I decided to go together to the KFC drive-through on Rosmead Avenue, just a few blocks from our house. It was Saturday night but the drive-through was relatively empty - just two cars in front of us.

We got to the ordering window but nobody was there. So we sat and sat as the two cars in front disappeared into the night and eventually some dispirited, tired Pig stuck her head out of the window and yelled at us to pay at the next window.

So we drove the few metres to the collection window and once again nobody was there. So we sat waiting patiently, until a girl popped her head out and took our order.

She came back a while later to say there was a wait for the chicken - six minutes - and was that OK? Of course it wasn't OK, but I didn't tell her that. I doubt my pontificating about the ironies of having no chicken to serve on the busiest night of the week - when your sole business is selling chicken - would have impressed her too much.

She just wanted to get the hell out of there and go find her boyfriend. Or her best friend's boyfriend. Like, sooo whatever.

So I told her it was fine and that we'd wait. But a queue was starting to build up behind us, and spotting it she asked if we would mind going and parking somewhere else and coming back in five minutes or so.

I asked her where I should park - the road outside was crammed with cars parked everywhere - and she told me to drive around and come back through the drive-thru.

My pleasant veneer began sliding as my innermost being sensed a less-than-pleasant conclusion to the evening's events, and I barked that the line was now at least 10 cars deep and getting longer and if she thought I was going to drive around again she was off her rocker.

I told her I'd find a space outside and instructed her to bring my order out to me when it was ready. She said she'd send the security guard. I said whatever and squealed out of the drive-thru.

I made a wide circle and came back into the one-way street the KFC is situated in, and as luck would have it someone had just vacated a place and I could park just about outside the front doors.

Tashi and I lit up some cigarettes and waited. And waited.

I could see through the doors and the place was stuffed with people waiting for chicken. The queue for the drive-thru reached all the way around the building and angry, trapped drivers were starting to lean on their horns.

Yet the KFC staff seemed totally unconcerned. There was no visible quickening of the pace inside and the kitchen staff joked easily with their counter staff, seemingly in no hurry.

I decided to get out of the car to go inside and apply pressure - nothing like someone standing a few feet away glowering with rage at you.

I do it frequently - whenever someone's taking an unreasonable amount of time with a fast food order. The very phrase "fast food" gives me license to do so.

I went inside and took up a position at the counter where I could see not only the counter staff but the kitchen and the drive-thru window as well. I folded my arms and started staring at people very directly. I sensed the security guard getting uneasy.

The chick who had taken my order at the drive-thru window was nowhere to be seen, so none of the staff had any idea who I was or why I wasn't ordering anything.

I saw one or two of them catch my eye then look away hurriedly - not one of them asked me whether I wanted to order something or not. I wouldn't have asked me either.

Then - staring through the opening that led through to the kitchen beyond - I saw a terrible, terrible thing.

A woman carried a full bucket of water into the centre of the tiled kitchen floor and upended it, sloshing the water carefully around. That water was filthy grey by the time she was done - the floor was absolutely filthy.

But that's not all. As I was watching I saw someone taking a grilling tray from somewhere and she dropped it on the floor. It fell with a loud clang and a bit of a splash and it was as if nothing had happened. She picked it up and slapped it back on the grill to cook some more chicken.

I was feeling pretty nauseous by that stage but suddenly the chick arrived with my order and handed it to me with a half-assed apology. I stormed out and drove home very quickly.

And of course - when we got home and unpacked our meal - we discovered they'd left out Tashi's bread roll, which we'd payed for. I'd say this particular KFC gets our order wrong once out of every three times, and they chose this night to bugger it up again.

There was no way we could go back - the place was bedlam by the time we left and the traffic was starting to get unmanageable.

So we ate what we had. I felt sick as a pike.

All Smoked Out,
Luke Tagg
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