by charles bell
A short intro to two guys traveling the country
Love taste a lot like chicken
I heard him come in the front door. I found reading Dickens was hard enough for me on my own it was twice as hard when Chuck wanted to talk. So I didn’t put down the book. He was back from his day spent with Tina, and as I have grown to know Chuck, he would obviously want to talk. I never looked up as he entered the room.
“Hey want to smell these?” He quickly thrust two fingers from his right hand under my nose. I swept them away quickly with my left arm. “Asshole!” I shouted.
“Nope that’s this hand.” Just as quickly two fingers from his left hand were pushed up under my nostrils as he smeared them across my upper lips and nose. “Stop! Fucker.” I quickly stood up as he removed his fingers. “Obviously you had a good day with Tina.” He sat down across from me, smirking, leaning back with his typical shit eating grin, “Good enough that I’m hungry. You want to grab dinner? I’m going to Alfredo’s”
“Sure why not?” I leaned down, putting my books down next to my vacant shoes and started to push my feet into them. He was already heading out the door so I tied them quickly, grabbed my book, and jogged to catch up to him. It was about 10 blocks to Alfredo’s and we talked as we strolled to the one pizza-slash-Italian place in this tiny town. Well it was more Chuck talked and I added a word or two. I was only half paying attention, my thoughts drifting to trying to break the news to Chuck. I was not sure how I would, so I just thought about how my whole trip with Chuck started.
It was almost two years now Chuck came to my home town and started working at the same Burger King that I had worked at since I was 16. After only two months he mentioned to me he was leaving soon and when I asked why; “it’s time” was his simple response. We went out for a drink the first time that night and he asked me what my “plan” was.
“Come on” Chuck said as he took another gulp of the draft beer that night “everyone has some type of plan.” He left that in the air and waited for my answer. I was twenty one and had not thought much about my future other than eventually I wanted to do something more than work at Burger King. “What, though I was not sure.” I shrugged “something better will come along eventually.” That was the best I could come up with at the time. “So it wouldn’t matter if you worked in a fast food place here or in the middle of Wyoming? Hypothetically of course, while waiting for something better to come along.”
“No. I guess not.” Looking at my half empty beer I realized I never thought much about my life. Getting by was good enough and in my small hometown I had managed to get by since grade school. My foster parents were good to me and I never wanted for anything but when I was 18 I moved out. I just never felt like I belonged there. I never wanted college or anything more, just wanted to try and be on my own. Growing up with 7 forester brothers and sisters had made me crave for my own space and my own life. So I moved two towns over and started working at the Burger king right off of the high way. That was always good enough, well till Chuck rolled into town.
“Why would I want to go to Wyoming?” I asked him that night. He just smiled like a know-it-all. “Why would you want to go anywhere? I mean you are waiting here in Oak Ridge for what? For something bigger and better to drop into your lap?”
“What would you know about it?” it was then I realized there was not enough beer in me to have this conversation. He then started to talk and when I went to say something he stopped me “Don’t interrupt me because you’re part of the ADD, MTV quick cut video, can’t pay attention to someone talking for more than a minute cause you need action that looks like a fight scene out of the Borne Identity generation.”
He sipped his beer. “If you have something to add or ask wait till I finish my thought, it’s only polite and is the epitome of a true conversation and dialogue.” FUCK! I thought, there definitely was not enough beer in me for this, what a jerk. So I just nodded at him.
He told me the quick dirty version, he had decided that he was going to leave his life, he had read so many great novels on self discovery he need to try it himself. Later into our trip I told him he had read too much and had “bookworms” in his own head. Chuck was the illegitimate offspring of Hunter S. Thompson and Buddha, that grew up with a nurse maid that was the sister of Mary Poppins but she swore like a ex-sailor current dock worker. He never spent more time in a place than he needed to discover part of himself or to make enough money to keep moving onward. It was on that night he invited me to as he put it, “tag along”.
“There better not be someone in our fucking seats.” He said as he open the door to Antonio’s waking me from my recollection and making me think of the upcoming task at hand. Chuck would only eat at places that met his cost to portion/taste ratio. This was just one of his obsequious ideas when it came to food. Chuck one time talked to me for 2 days about the finer points of a cheese steak vs. a “Philly” cheese steak. When it came to food he had his own opinions of certain things and he openly admitted they were deeply rooted and did not have to make sense. We sat down at the booth he liked to sit in while our waitress brought him his customary water and diet soda.
He talked on and off about his day with Tina, every now and then pulling out one of the notebooks he always carried around to write a note or two. Then just after our food arrived, as he finished a large bite of his chicken parmigiana, “I think we should leave when this month’s rent is up.”. Just as abruptly he took a big gulp of water to wash it down, before resuming eating.
“Chuck,” I paused this was the moment I knew was coming “I think I’m going to stay.”
He looked at me, chewing, then picked up a notebook and started writing. “Chuck, did you hear me?” I asked, figuring he would have said something.
“Do you want my approval or do you want me to talk you out of it?” He asked as he cut another piece of his chicken.
“So you’re ok with this?” I put down my half eaten chicken finger in the basket.
“Sure. Why not?” he went on eating like nothing happened.
“That’s it? So none of your Jedi mind tricks? No asking why or trying to get me to think about it?” he just looked at me fork in hand.
“Did you want me to do those things?” I shook my head. I did not know really what I expected but I guess I expected worst than this. We kept eating and he went back to talking about Tina. It was like nothing fazed him till in the middle of him telling me about his walk back from the lake with Tina. “So why? You obviously wanted me to ask ‘why do you want stay?”
“Well, I think I’m in love.” I said my smile obvious; it was too hard to hide. Every time I thought about Kim and me I would just smile, it was uncontrollable. “You know I have been seeing that girl Kim.” He nodded so I continued, “Well you and I have been traveling and always moving but I think this girl really likes me. So I want to see if there is something there.”
He continued to nod evenly between bites he finally said “Good luck, I hope it works out for you, kid.”
“And now that’s it?” I asked still perturbed waiting for the other shoe to drop. He looked at me dead eyed "So really do you think you're in love?" Chuck asked me. Finally, here it came.
"I don't know." What could I say, "I guess, I mean … I think. I think I could be with time" I really did not have an answer. We had only been dating for a few weeks, about two weeks after Chuck and I got here.
"Then you don't know?" he pushed further.
"No, I guess I don't." I was getting a little upset that he was prying in this direction, but I knew he was setting me up in one of his verbal traps and rather than wait for him to spring it I just jumped into it.
"So you are going to tell me what it’s like to be in love?" He was not going to put his “bookworms” in my head.
"I can't." he said smugly. Too smudge for my liking.
"Well why fricking not? Any other time the past two years you have had an over abundance of advice and ‘know-it-all’ comments" My hand slapped on the table as if to demand an answer.
"Because love is a lot like chicken." He said and went back to eating. I just laughed, probably a little too loud for being out in public. I looked around now one was staring at us, so I turned back to Chuck.
"Go ahead; I won't interrupt while you explain that one." I put my hands on the under my chin like a student waiting for his answer.
"Good." He paused and took a big sip of water. "Love is a lot like chicken in this sense; have you ever tried to explain to someone who has never had chicken what chicken taste like? Go ahead and try, you have nothing to compare it to cause chicken taste like chicken. Trying to tell someone one what love feels like if they have never been in love is just as impossible."
"I'll go one further." He paused and then took another sip this time from his soda. "How many times have you eaten something and said 'That kind of taste like chicken.'? I'm sure a few times like 'hmm this is good, taste a little like chicken.' Well same thing with love; infatuation is a lot like love, lust can be mistaken for love, and I'm sure there are other emotions people mistake for love. So that is why love is a lot like chicken." I sat trying to take it all in, I could not tell if he was being serious or just screwing with me.
“This from the guy who can’t stay in one place long enough to date a girl for more than a few weeks. I should have known better.” I shook my head with a little disgust. “You have run from your life for so long and are so detached I can’t listen to what you say.”
“Well at least you found a girl who is a good fuck.” He said putting his fork down putting his hand on the top of his glass of water but not lifting it.
“What did you just say?” my hands on the table gripping the edges tightly.
“The short version?” he nodded “what I’m going to say to you now you are going to believe or not, you will ask Kim and get the truth or a lie from her. You might even think I’m lying just to manipulate you, but our first week here I hooked up with Kim.”
I banged my hand, now a fist on the table. “And now you tell me? You couldn’t have said something before?”
“Well what did it matter? I told her she was too shallow and I knew we’d be leaving in a few weeks anyway. She kept at me for a few days but I just told her it wasn’t happening again. When I saw her hanging with you I figured it was to get to me, but what would it matter when we left anyway.”
“God you are a cold asshole!” I stood up and headed for the door. How could he do this to me!?
“Hey, I’m not paying for this… I figure you owe about $7.75 plus tip!” I heard as I walked out the door. The gravel crunching under my feet as I walked through the parking lot as my head was spinning. It made complete sense and no sense what so ever. Facts, emotions, ideas, were swirling making it hard to breath. I looked up at the moon, hoping for a sign or an answer. It was too much all at once. I took a deep breath and tried to clear my mind. I heard the steps of someone coming up behind me.
“You owe me $10, you are a generous tipper.” Chuck said walking up behind me. I turned ready to swing my fist at him but he was not that close.
“Fuck off, Chuck!”
“No problem, kid.” He took a wide path around me “just try and figure out what ‘it’ really tastes like to you.” And he kept walking. I turned just wanting to walk opposite from him. Then realized I was heading back to Alfredo’s. I was not ready to sit at ‘home’ or be around him. So I walked in and went up to the counter. I wanted a way to prove him wrong,
“Suzy can you do me favor, I want to order something kind of off menu.” Suzy the counter girl who mostly took phone orders looked up
“Sure Hun, you and Chuck are good customers what can I get for you.” Even hearing his name made me seethe.
“Can you make me a mixed basket of chicken fingers, mozzarella sticks, and fish sticks?” I’ll show him I knew what chicken tasted like. I went back and sat at our booth it was already cleared and I just waited for my order.
My thoughts were still spinning when the basket ended up in front of me. I placed it to the side and tried not to look at what I grabbed. I closed my eyes as I took a bite. Crunch. I knew it was a chicken finger, by the shape of it as I lifted it gave it away. So I grabbed my fork for the next one. Crunch, fish that was obviously fish.
“See Chuck” I thought to myself “I know the difference.” I kept eating, Crunch, the next one had to be a mozzarella stick, the grease giving it away.
I kept eating identifying each, but my mind wandered to pressing questions. Did it matter that Kim had been with Chuck? Was I staying for the right reasons? Crunch. Chicken. I guess I had latched on to Chuck as the first person that was a friend, mentor, father figure, and just about anything else I needed. Crunch. Fish. So did I need him? Was this a violation of our friendship that I could get over? Crunch. Fish, again. What did I want out of life? Crunch. Was Kim what I wanted? Crunch. What the Dickens was that one? I distracted myself and was not paying attention, what did I just eat? Oh fuck!