[I sent this to a small e-zine after it asked for submissions and I happen to have this lying around and it was posted on that website in--I dont remember--2003? Or was it 2004? I dont know. So does that mean they own it? When I gave it to them, did I waive all my rights to it? Anyway here it is.]
The guy at the end of the bar was oddly familiar; the red vest, the backwards cap, striped shorts, red boots, and the white feathers. Even in the shadows, I felt I've seen him before. He ordered another double Jack Daniels and a San Mig Light and saw me looking at him. He gave a semi-chuckle and raised his shot glass in mock salute before downing the Jack in one gulp.
I don't know what came over me but I walked over to where he was. There was something about him and like I said he looked familiar. Probably a former classmate, I thought to myself. Wouldn't hurt to chat. I sure needed someone to chat with that night. Idle chit-chat to take my mind off the fact that my girlfriend left me for her yoga teacher, after maxing out my credit cards and secretly pouring Omega painkiller in all my underwear.
"I'm sorry, but have we met before?" I asked. "You look familiar."
"I doubt it, but I get that a lot," he said, chugging on his beer without looking at me, still with that half-chuckle-half-smirk on his face. His body language told me to get lost and I started to, but he shot me a sideways glance, faced me and said, "I'm Chucky," putting out his feathered hand/wing.
I guess my jaw dropped because he chuckled. A full chuckle this time. I stammered a few times then managed to say, "The KFC mascot?" No wonder he looked familiar. Here I was, a paid-for-eight-hours-but-works-for-twelve regular Joe Schmoe and I was chatting with a genuine celebrity.
"Sit down, kid," he said. He turned to the bartender. "Bok, give..." (He looked at me. Ecrutil, I said. He nodded.) "Give my pal Ecrutil here another one of whatever he's having." (Cerveza Negra, I said to the bartender, sitting down next to Chucky.) Chucky turned to me, "So what's on your mind, Ecru? You don't mind if I call you Ecru, do you? Call me Chuck. I hate that name Chucky." Then to the bartender, raising his empty shot glass, "Keep em coming."
You have to understand what was going on here. I consider myself a nobody. A has-been. No. Strike that. I'm a never-was. I wasn't always so down on myself. That realization grew gradually. Failed business ventures, failed projects, failed relationships. I always blamed other people for them. But my partners, bless them, some of them, anyway, all went on to bigger and better things. It was me all along. That's what my last girlfriend tried to tell me. Not in so many words, but when I think about it, that's what she was trying to say in her own unique, coded, roundabout, endearingly female way. If I remember correctly, her exact words were, "Get the heck out of my life, you loser." So what I was trying to do, and you may ridicule me for saying this, was to sit and talk to somebody I considered a success, in the vain and fruitless hope that maybe some of that success would rub off on me. I was basking in Chucky's - excuse me, Chuck's - glow, hoping I'd reflect some of it to the casual observer, which included, incidentally, that hot chick in the halter-top and belly button ring playing 9-ball with Ronald McDonald.
I gushed all over Chuck. About how big a star he is. About how, as a youngster, he was just a regular rooster trying to make a name for himself until Col. Sanders saw something in him, something different, and decided to make him the KFC mascot. Now he's the richest chicken on the planet. Limousines, mansions, wild parties, hobnobbing with the rich and famous: that's his life. "What was it? What did the Colonel see in you?" I asked, oblivious to the fact that I was probably embarrassing him, and equally oblivious to the fact that I was certainly embarrassing myself.
"It's all about finding the thing that makes you unique and improving on it," he said. "It's self-promotion, kid. Shameless self-promotion." He was smirking again, a bitter half-smile on one corner of his beak. "You know how all roosters go 'Cock-a-doodle-doo'?" I nodded. "Well, I bucked millions of years of evolution and tradition and went 'Cock-a-doodle-albacore-tuna.'"
"You understand, kid, that when I decided to do that, it caused, to put it mildly, quite a stir. Chickens are deeply rooted in tradition. It's how we survived as a distinct cultural entity. The elders of my community were outraged. A rooster didn't go 'Cock-a-doodle-albacore-tuna' gab-dummit. I was shunned. No one wanted to talk to me. Even my family didn't dare talk to me in public. But I wasn't going to go cock-a-doodle-doo like the other roosters. That's just not me. I continued to go cock-a-doodle-albacore-tuna. Repeated warnings from the elders, notwithstanding." By this time, everybody in that bar was interested in the story. Probably because Chuck was downing Jack as fast as the bartender could fill up his shot glass and was getting a bit loud. And, if I might add, Ronald McDonald stopped playing pool with the chick and sidled his way to the bar and stood next to us.
"The elders decided to report me to the High Council. And soon enough, an edict came down from headquarters in Antwerp. I was being excommunicated. No longer could I call myself a chicken. By law, no one could talk to me anymore, or even be seen with me. Not even my family. I was kicked out of chickendom. But..." He fell silent with a pained expression on his face. A tear ran down his cheek, quickly wiped away, "My baby sister, Pamela. She was too young to know what was going on. She kept wanting to play with me. She would run to me and hug me and... Well, my mother put a stop to that. She wouldn't allow Pamela to see me. I don't blame her. The elders, they're pretty powerful. I miss my sister. But heck, I wasn't going to be just another chicken. I wanted to be somebody. I left our community and wandered the countryside, crowing my crow and that's when the Colonel found me. I sure made something of myself, didn't I?"
Chuck looked and saw everybody was listening to him in rapt attention. That brought him back to the present. He went back to his jolly, devil-may-care persona, and asked for the check. He paid for my drink too. He was about go out the door when he stopped, turned to me and said, "Hey, kid. Wanna go for a cup of coffee?" Sure, I said.
We went to a nearby Starbucks and when we sat down at our table he was quiet. I decided to respect that and kept silent with him, nursing my coffee. He just wanted to be with somebody, I thought to myself. Then after a while he said, "You know, kid, I bought a condo in the French Riviera yesterday. I wonder why I did that. It turns out I'm not ever going to use it anyway." He shrugged. "A lot of people wonder why I work for KFC. It's a place that kills chickens. Ironic, what? My image is posted on every KFC branch in the world. I'm smiling. I'm happy, while inside, they're chopping up my fellow chickens and pressure-frying them with the Colonel's secret recipe of eleven frigging herbs and spices. Did you know that KFC kills 700 million chickens a year? They raise them in cramped quarters, jammed together in their feces until it's time to slaughter them. They hang them upside down for hours, and run them on a conveyor that chops up their heads. Ker-chop-chop! Just like that. They're fully conscious when they kill them." Chuck fell silent again and stared out the window. I could see he was crying but he didn't bother to wipe away the tears this time.
"They excommunicated me, right? Officially I'm not a chicken. Do chickens own mansions and limousines and friggin condos in the French Rivi-friggin-iera? I'm not a chicken!"
I tried to calm him down. The best way to get a drunk to listen to you is to whisper to them, so I did that. I held him by the back of the neck and whispered, "It'll be all right, Chuck. It'll be all right." That was all I could say. But it worked. He smiled and said, "Yes it will. Of course it will. Why shouldn't it be all right?" He held my face in his hand/wings. "You're ok, kid. Let's go. Where do you live? I could drop you off." He did. I said my goodbyes and threw in a perfunctory "Maybe we could do this again sometime, eh?" He just smiled and said, "Yeah, kid. Maybe."
The next morning, the papers said Chuck overdosed on sleeping pills. Somehow it didn't surprise me. Chuck's suicide note was found next to a letter from his mother. The letter was about Pamela. She died. Pressure-fried in eleven herbs and spices at the Greenbelt branch of KFC.