Serves: Anyone willing to pay $23.00 a box ($11.99 after 7:00 p.m.)
1. Tie the apron. Stretch your fingers into the plastic gloves. Go to the cooler, that dark cell filled with raw meat in the back of the grocery store, and pull the chicken out of the cardboard boxes. Count the wings, breasts, and thighs–shapes you have memorized–and drop them into the green bucket. Try not to think about how cold chicken blood is when it has been refrigerated overnight. While you do this, hum along to the chorus of the song playing over the intercom, “If I had a million dollars…”
2. Haul the bucket to the sink and wash each piece. Try not to think of it as waterboarding the chicken.
3. Turn on that monster, the fryer. That big vat of boiling vegetable oil. Make sure it’s hot. The last time you cooked, you put the chicken in too early, and the breading got all slippery and slimy, the pieces hanging in lukewarm oil, suspended–chicken in purgatory. Be kind to the chicken. Give it no illusions of survival.
4. Roll the chicken around in the silver tub of seasoned flour and begin daydreaming about your Great American Novel, but become distracted by what you would do with a million dollars instead. You find yourself wanting to sit somewhere French with a typewriter while wearing a smoking jacket.
5. Notice that you didn’t put on the apron referred to in step one. Your belly has a certain prominence and somehow you can never keep it out of the flour. Put on the apron now so Drake the Adorable Stockboy won’t see your gut covered in bleached wheat. He calls you Fitzgerald because he knows your literary ambitions, but not your romantic ones. Wave to him when he makes his 9:00 a.m. appearance with the milk stacked on a pushcart.
6. Drop the chicken piece-by-piece into the fryer. (Of course, you will need to have lowered the wire basket into the grease first. If you did not do this step, grab a set of tongs from under the deli counter and fish the chicken out before it burns on the hot coils. That’s what happens when chicken has the freedom to do whatever it wants.)
7. Set the timer for the chicken.
8. Stir the chicken halfway through its cooking-time with a giant metal spatula to keep the pieces from sticking together. This will be around the time Drake comes over to flirt with you. Ask him what he would do with a million dollars.
9. When Drake says he would buy a boat, explain that a million dollars would buy far more than a boat. Do not betray your disappointment when he says he’ll buy a big boat.
10. If you forget to set the timer (like last time) take the chicken out as soon as you realize too much time has gone by and poke it with the thermometer. If you can poke through the breading without too much trouble, put the burnt chicken in the case and sell as much as you can before your manager comes back. If you have to unduly exert yourself to stab through the breading, throw the chicken away. Cover it in the wastebasket with paper towels. Pretend it never happened. Do steps 1-4 again.
11. When a customer calls, ask her, “What would you do with a million dollars?” When she says, “Oh, no! I just wanted the deli people,” reassure her and jot down her order.
12. Go to the cooler with two green buckets so you can accommodate the caller’s request for 39 skinless chicken breasts for her family reunion. Tear off the skin, and toss the chicken into the flour.
13. Don’t want more. Don’t ever want more.