We promise no chickens or tongues were harmed during the writing of this piece, but we advise discretion for sensitive readers all the same.
"What are you doing later?"
All eyes look at me. I am on Skype. They are in Tokyo, Hong Kong and Vancouver. I am in Alaska visiting my friends and family.
It is all hours of the day and night where we are - some of us have telecommuted, some of us are on vacation and the rest just don’t give a damn about the time. We all sit at our group chat with our various types of alcohol in front of us. I am sure someone is sitting staring at us over the rim of a beer glass at 10 am on a work day, but my Momma raised me right. I will wait until that person leaves to ask the others. You should show respect and only talk about people behind their back to save them the embarrassment of confrontation.
It is about half an hour in, and most of the attendees are comfortably settled into the conversation. It is the right time to hurl a brick through a stained glass window during a funeral.
“I was thinking of boiling a tongue today for dinner.”
That did it.
Annette is the first and most reactive in responding. She wretches. Amadu spills her drink as I assume something has gone down the wrong pipe. There might have also been a scream, but I didn't hear it clearly enough to comment.
I stare back serenely at the commotion from the little cubby-holed faces gawking back at me from the computer screen.
“I was thinking of a brine with a small amount of salt. I am sure I have a bullet laying around here somewhere - this is after all Alaska. Brine, brine, brine...”I hum under my breath.
I allow my eyes to lose focus and I rest my chin on my hand in the pretence of being lost in thought about that tongue. I am careful to keep my breathing in check and gleefully stifle my laughter.
“Uhm , Paul....?”
Amadi looks at me with large owlish eyes. Her oversized editor’s glasses had to be for therapeutic uses because they are far from stylish and proved quite a hazard when we ventured from cold to warm areas. They always fogged up, giving Amadi a blank and a rather unintelligent look as she fumbled about with arms out, attempting to peer around the mist on her lenses.
“Yes, Amadi, what is it?” I still effect a drifty dreamy look.
“Are you sure about this?” The group is holding their collective breath. When I am quiet, it means the precursor to pandemonium; the calm before the storm.
“Actually I feel like chicken, not brine.”
There is nervous laughter. Chickens shouldn’t really have tongues.
“It’s just the mess of cleaning the bird first. You know, you cannot pluck them until they are dead. They keep trying to peck at you when you tear off their feathers. And the whole issue of chopping off the head is bad enough without having to wait for the headless corpse to crash and become still. Then there is the matter of running around with a garden hose to wash down the buildings where their blood has hit.” As if to punctuate this I hear a crash somewhere on the line. Someone has dropped to the floor in a dead faint.
I continue in a singsong voice, “It’s like cleaning up after the Jews fled Egypt with all the bugs about and vital fluids on the walls. So after the bird is plucked and salted and rinsed, I will make a stock with the gizzard and liver and neck if I haven’t hacked it to shreds. Yes, a consomme would be good to make with the tongue of moose.”
“Moose!” Sounds the cacophony.
“Oh my God, you killed a moose?”
“What about the rest of the moose?”
“Oh, that’s the whole thing. I mean that’s the only part I got. There was a traffic accident.”
Millie is looking much like a UN official who suddenly loses her instantaneous translation because the frequency drops out. “You mean the tongue fell out of the moose in the accident?” I wonder if she is thinking it is like when you scare a Pekinese dog and the eyes pop out? Perhaps she thinks the tongue comes flying out like a pimple exploding? Ew. Now that is disgusting.
“Millie, no, sweetie, I only got the head. Someone else was on the road kill list and the 4 people before me all got the quarters and I was left with the neck and head, minus the rack.”
There is an odd noise now which sounds like groaning.
“Has anyone seen Lutki? She was here a moment ago, wasn’t she?”
Annette looks at the screen. “Maybe she went out to get a refill on her drink.”
"I think Lukti passed out. Her eyes were rolled back before she sort of slithered to the floor," replies Amadu.
Ok, she fainted. It is nothing new. She fainted the first time she had sex. She fainted the first time she opened the door and someone yelled a Halloween “Trick or Treat” when she was an exchange student in Canada in high school. She throws faints like some pitchers throw curve balls.
I ignore the group. “I suppose I could use the whole head. I mean, without the rack.”
I make a big sweeping gesture. “I just need a pot big enough and stable enough on the burner. Maybe I should use bricks under?” People are staring at me with open mouths. Just how far out in the hinterlands of Alaska had I put myself?
“Aren’t rack the tits?” This is Lukti. She is back among the living. Her hair is mussed so she must have really hit the floor. Obviously, Lukti had heard the phrase “Nice rack.”
“No, no breasts in the skull. The horns are the rack, they were taken off or broke off.”
Annette is sitting with her hands over her face. She is wishing she was anywhere but here. I also know she records each of these sessions. She will replay this commotion as she hoots with laughter in her house dress later, sitting on the floor with her favorite pillow, kicking the air as she rolls about in a fetal position. She once left her camera on and I amusedly watched this ritual unfold.
“Uh, Paul..how long would that take?”
“Not sure. If I cannot find a chicken I will have to cheat and use bouillon and schmaltz.”
“What is schmaltz?” I can almost smell the hestitation, like hot tar on a freshly paved road, as they asked the question.
“Schmaltz? it’s chicken fat.”
“I thought you didn’t have a chicken.”
“I don’t but our little town has a Jewish delicatessen.” I smile brightly. We also have a Turkish bakery that makes wonderful bismarks.
Things have settled down so I think it is a good time to ask: "would you all like to see the tongue while it’s fresh? It hasn’t turned blue yet and it almost hasn’t started to curl. It’s still nice and slimy, so it will be easy to peel off the skin if you want to watch.” I lean over to the left, out of the range of the camera lens.
I must have lost the connection. Suddenly Hong Kong, Vancouver, and Tokyo are silent.
I guess my humor is off the menu for tonight.