Johnny America


My Sis­ter, Part Four


Chick­ens are over-bred, dim and un­gain­ly  —  pa­thet­ic birds. You have to chase a chick­en a long time be­fore it takes flight. Al­most al­ways, you catch it be­fore it flies. Dogs sure do.

At age eleven, I watched a Ger­man Shepherd(dog), kill a flock of twen­ty Swiss chick­ens in less than ten min­utes, with on­ly one bite to each bulging throat. A year lat­er, in Cape Charles, Vir­ginia, I watched an an­cient bea­gle kill three chick­ens in un­der a minute  —  again, one bite to the throat. The in­ter­est­ing thing about these in­stances was that, in each, the chick­ens were ful­ly aware that a mur­der­ous dog was in their midst; they were cer­tain­ly aware that they were in the pres­ence of death; yet they did­n’t fly away. And they CAN fly  —  it is­n’t pret­ty, but they can.

William Blake said that most men lead lives of qui­et des­per­a­tion. I know now that mod­ern chick­ens are hope­less­ly des­per­ate be­ings, as des­per­ate as the hu­mans of Kansas.


I don’t go around seek­ing episodes of chick­en slaugh­ter by dogs. But by my own hazy reck­on­ing, I be­lieve I’ve wit­nessed over a dozen spec­ta­cles of the me­thod­i­cal slaugh­ter of chick­ens by dogs of all sizes and tem­pera­ments, all cold and gory sit­u­a­tions de­void of emotion.

Why me? It’s just kismet. Per­son­al­ly, I rarely eat chicken.


My sis­ter once had a charis­mat­ic ter­ri­er named Lucy. She did­n’t raise chick­ens around Lucy  —  then, my sis­ter had a big white duck that she got for mar­ry­ing a buck­toothed nitwit. Ducks are tough, they’ll charge you and take a piece out of your thigh. They’ll kick your ass and don’t even have to fly. Lucy knew bet­ter. Lucy pre­tend­ed to ig­nore the duck, but every time that honk­ing, shit­ting, at­ten­tion-starved ex­cuse for a no­ble bird was in the room, Lucy fixed her un­wa­ver­ing gaze up­on it.

Lucy was­n’t yet around when my sis­ter be­gan rais­ing chick­ens to prove her love for the hir­sute Iran­ian Min­ki. I think my sis­ter had a gin­ger cat named Win­ston at that time. (I’ve seen cats kill chick­ens too, but on­ly Maine Coon cats.)

Min­ki ate fried chick­en like a five-hun­dred pound South­ern black man who just got out of jail and was back, in his draw­ers, at his moth­er’s ta­ble: a sym­pho­ny of smeck­ings and in­vol­un­tary bod­i­ly erup­tions. Min­ki cracked chick­en bones with his teeth and sucked out the bloody mar­row. His chin was slick with chick­en fat and shreds of chick­en flesh dan­gled be­tween his teeth.

“End of Ra­madan,” he said, twelve months a year.

Truth be told, Min­ki had a love­ly set of chop­pers  —  big, like Chi­clets  —  glis­ten­ing nacre­ous in con­trast to his desert-dark­ened skin. “Try to find us, Jim­my Carter,” Min­ki taunt­ed, laugh­ing. (My sis­ter has a thing for men with big teeth.)


Watch­ing Min­ki eat chick­en, I’d get mad think­ing of the things he did to my sis­ter in bed. Re­al­ly none of my busi­ness, but I’m by na­ture broth­er­ly. So, at her Thanks­giv­ing ta­ble, I asked her what kind of chick­ens she was rais­ing, re­fer­ring to species.

“Well, there’s a re­al mean one,” she said, swing­ing her glass of wine, “and the rest are all shy and depressed.”

Min­ki was tongu­ing on the Pope’s Nose, mak­ing Don­na Sum­mer nois­es. My fa­ther was at the ta­ble, ac­com­pa­nied by his vac­u­umed then-wife (not our  —  my sis­ter’s or my or my broth­er’s  —  moth­er; our moth­er was an in­sane bo­hemi­an). My fa­ther’s then-wife  —  we’ll call her Leona  —  loves on­ly mon­ey and at­ten­tion. (William Blake.)

Thanks­giv­ing Hatred

Leona asked my sis­ter why her chick­ens were depressed.

“Well, there’s six of them in a four-foot by three-foot cage, and Min­ki al­ways goes down there (a rick­ety flight of stairs to a grim door­yard), and stares at them. He men­aces the coop with nunchucks and talks to them in Iran­ian” (re­mem­ber, this was dur­ing the hostage crisis).

“These are Amer­i­can chick­ens,” my sis­ter qua­vered, near­ly in tears.

Dad was en­tranced by a ball game on the new Watch­man, still his best friend (Dad would watch an­oth­er man’s bow­el move­ment if it was on tele­vi­sion). Leon­a’s hair looked like a fiber­glass hel­met and she was dressed like a Pilgrim.

“Have you heard of fric­as­see?” said Min­ki, suck­ing hard on a wing­bone. (This guy could eat an ap­ple through a pick­et fence. Those chick­ens must have been terrified.)

“I love Ig­gy Pop,” said our schiz­o­phrenic broth­er, rub­bing his fork on his chest.

“They’re on­ly chick­ens, sweet­ie,” Leona condescended.


Now let it be said that my sis­ter hat­ed Leona, de­spised her. Our moth­er died when my sis­ter was eleven, a hard time for a girl to lose her Mom. Leona was our step­moth­er, a woman our fa­ther met on an air­plane. She served him a tough piece of chick­en and his sev­enth vod­ka and Sprite with a splash of Chablis and they had a date that night in Chica­go. Two weeks lat­er they were en­gaged. Sud­den­ly, my fa­ther start­ed watch­ing the PTL Club and The Hour of Pow­er, start­ed go­ing to an evan­ge­lis­tic church twice a week and wor­ry­ing about money.

Soon af­ter, Dad brought the evan­ge­lis­tic preach­er home for din­ner. I did all the cook­ing back then: I whomped up a big green sal­ad with care­ful­ly sliced onion rings, lasagna-fla­vored (?) Ham­burg­er Helper and roast­ed chick­en drum­sticks. I used Shake and Bake. The preach­er tucked in hearti­ly. Af­ter din­ner, he said:

“That sure was good. You’re a lit­tle cook­ing angel.”

When I was do­ing the dish­es, and every­one else was watch­ing Son­ny & Cher in the liv­ing room, the preach­er came in­to the kitchen and rubbed my four­teen-year old crotch in ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the din­ner I’d pre­pared. “Are you ever lone­ly?” he whis­pered in my hair­less lit­tle ear.

A month lat­er, my sis­ter, my broth­er and I were in the evan­ge­lis­tic preacher’s church  —  a “re­form” church, it was called  —  watch­ing my fa­ther and Leona be mar­ried. My sis­ter kept shout­ing things  —  un­in­tel­li­gi­ble and African  —  and I had to squeeze her arm to calm her down. The preach­er stood in as our fa­ther’s best man.

“Dad’s a suck­er,” my sis­ter said, af­ter the bride and groom had kissed.

The preach­er rubbed me like a wor­ry stone at the re­cep­tion. Two months lat­er he was on the TV news for mo­lest­ing six kids at a Chris­t­ian sum­mer camp near Lake Liv­ingston. He went to jail. The kids he mo­lest­ed now have church­es of their own.

Soon af­ter the bad news, Dad and Leona moved to Or­ange Coun­ty, Cal­i­for­nia. Leona had been mar­ried once be­fore in Cal­i­for­nia, and prof­it­ed fi­nan­cial­ly from that state’s com­mu­ni­ty prop­er­ty laws.


Leon­a’s mere pres­ence had set my sis­ter’s tem­per to sim­mer. Leon­a’s asi­nine com­ments over a pro­longed pe­ri­od made my sis­ter boil.

We were raised rich and over­ly-man­nered, South­ern-style. Our Vir­ginia fam­i­ly billed them­selves as aris­to­crats, and his­to­ry sur­pris­ing­ly sup­port­ed their as­ser­tions, but my grand­fa­ther al­ways called them “crack­ers with dad­dy’s mon­ey.” Strange­ly, even as kids, we rec­og­nized Pa­pa’s de­scrip­tion. But we said “Sir” and “Ma’am” un­der threat of a fore­arm pierced by red-paint­ed fin­ger­nails, and my sis­ter wore bon­nets trail­ing rib­bons every Easter.

Leona had stretched my sis­ter’s man­ners to the max.

Filed under Writer X's Sister on May 12th, 2004

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Reader Comments

Sharon wrote:

More parts! …chick­en or oth­er­wise. Please make the re­al buck­tooth nitwit stand up and be counted.
I’m waiting.

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