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For people who spend the day saying and writing things that others accept, while thinking things that are infinitely more interesting.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Chicken and Potato Logs

Fall, 1983. The days were pastel and vague, having lost their brilliance and sharp edges. Rather than driving myself energetically, I drifted from hour to hour, a high-charged battery losing power.

To amuse myself, I’d try to find different paths to walk to and from classes, often losing myself in the walks so that not arriving was the ultimate result. It didn’t matter if I got to where I was going: I didn’t want to be there anyway.

One afternoon, a warm sunny day that promised summer would return, I stopped at a gas station, one of those little spots that calls itself a “mini-mart” with the confidence a terrier calls itself a guard dog. There was no plan in my mind; I was just marking time.

A twenty-second tour of the place led me to stop at a glass case. Under heat lamps, arranged with the care of an art gallery, were large pieces of chicken and potato logs. I ordered a box of two pieces of white meat (a Southern courtesy to avoid the word “breast” not extended to words that are truly offensive) and some potato logs. With a Coca-Cola tucked in the bag, I walked away in some direction not leading to my apartment.

Food is food, in my book. It is not a passion, though I understand it is to some. I prefer simplicity, and it’s hard to get more simple than chicken and potatoes, dipped in batter and fried. But there are times, beyond physical need, when food becomes comfort, soul-affirming, a blanket on a chilled soul, a moment of pleasure that breaks a long dark night in the heart.

Or maybe I was just hungry. In any case, the chicken was a revelation: fried to crispiness, yet juicy, filled with flavor beyond just salty to encompass rarer spices and a touch of pepper. In a break from my usual habit, I ate the chicken first. Then I bit into a potato log and forgot my day.

It’s basically a large french fry, but this potato log was a work of art, well-deserving of careful display and appreciation. The batter was crisp and whole, not flaking or clinging. The potato itself was soft and firm, as spicy as the chicken, but with more subtlety. In minutes, all four of the revelations were gone, the Coke was slamming down my throat and the day sharpened in contrast.

My walks now crossed the path of this mini-mart every day. My lunch or dinner was the same box of two pieces of chicken and four potato logs. I always ate it while continuing my walk, enjoying the flavors, the moment and the slight but noticeable difference in my day.

I once asked for the recipes, but the guy told me the food was prepared by a woman at her house and she brought it in twice a day. I never asked her name, nor did I ever bother to seek the recipes again. I saw these simple items as gifts to my day and I wanted to keep them that way. One must learn to accept gifts as they come, when they come… without having to deeply explore why they come.


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