By Skot Kurruk

I was on Christmas break from school in 1990, and I was spending it with my girlfriend at her place in Portland, Oregon. I needed money. So I applied at the local Kentucky Fried Chicken, thinking, “Hey, how bad can it be?”


When the manager looked at my application, he said a phrase I am not likely to hear again in my life: “Aren’t you overqualified?” Previous job experience at that point included things like doing surveying for the Forest Service, working clean-up shifts at a sawmill, and jerking off during work-study at my school’s graduate law program. I had no reply to this unexpected question, so I believe I said, “Probably.” Like a lot of college students, I was a real asshole, and was unaware of my unfortunate condition. Fortunately, the manager kind of liked me and hired me anyway. His first job for me: “Can you run over to Fred Meyer and get me some cigarettes?”

Uh, sure. His brand?

“Virginia Slims Menthol Light 100s.” He handed me a couple bucks. Through a mighty force of will, I restrained myself from asking him what his drag persona was named.

{ chicken tenderfoot }

My first job in the morning was to deal with the dozens of refrigerated chickens I would be cooking during the day. They were pre-cut, of course, and mostly – that word is important – mostly eviscerated. The manager explained to me that parts of the bird weren’t quite fully mauled yet: most of them still had their livers sitting there glommed onto the chilly corpses somehow. What I had to do was dump all the carcasses into a sink full of cold water and kind of thumb the livers off.

This is just one aspect of the job where I was, I am ashamed to say, less than diligent. (If you lived in Portland circa 1990, and you contracted a mysterious kind of deep-fried chicken hepatitis, you can come on over to my house sometime and punch me in the face.) So really what was going on was, I was kind of just splish-splashing around in a mini-lake full of clammy poultry. I can assure you that I considered this the sexiest possible thing to be doing at 9 AM.

I was not alone, of course, in my job. I had some notable coworkers, none of whose names I remember – but certain personalities are indelibly with me forever. For one, there was the kid who informed me that he was but fifteen, and had lied on his application to get the job. He was also, he claimed, already intimately familiar with rehab, as he had a nasty coke habit. I didn’t really believe him, and figured that he was engaging in some hyperbole; this view changed after I, yes, bought some coke off of him. To make the scene even more horrifically sordid, when he gave it to me, I immediately marched into the bathroom, mid-shift, and did a line off the toilet lid.

There were others, of course: the counter staff was almost all women, of whom I remember two: one was perfectly nice, but had an almost supernatural fear of mishandling a “Mystery Shopper,” those corporate muckrakers who go to restaurants posing as customers. She was possessed by the idea that she’d cut some terrific fart in front of the Mystery Shopper, or sneeze on his coleslaw. (Which could only be an improvement for that particular dish: Nobody should ever eat coleslaw, for Christ’s sake, but least of all from KFC. If I were to posit a Sentient Cabbage Universe, KFC would be Pol Pot, and he would carry a fearsome, Galactus-sized goo-gun of whitish slaw-slurry, and when he laughed, cabbages everywhere would tremble. Just don’t eat the coleslaw, all right?)


I also remember that counterperson because it was she who alerted me to some interesting information regarding the other regular countergirl: that is, the other countergirl had developed a hot crush on yours truly, never mind the well-known fact that I was living with my girlfriend. Okay, well, hey, these things happen, right? “I’d watch out, though,” I was told. “She gets kinda weird.” How so, I wondered? “Well, a couple years ago, she carved ‘COLIN JAMES HAY’ into her arm. I’ve seen the scar when she changes.”

I’m pretty sure that’s the most fearsome phrase I’ve ever heard. So fearsome, in fact, that I doubted that my brain had processed it properly. It was the KFC coleslaw of phrases. “Colin James Hay?” I repeated dumbly. “The lead singer from Men At Work?”

“I guess,” said the lass. “I think she was in the hospital.”

Now, let’s leave aside the whole “I express my admiration through body mutilation” aspect for a second and focus on COLIN FUCKING JAMES JESUS CHRIST HAY! Couldn’t she have picked a slightly less mockable pop donut to get the whim-whams over? Jesus, even some terrible poodle like Dennis DeYoung would have worked.

I avoided the Colin James Hay girl like poison. She shot me shy smiles every now and then, and I’d immediately have visions of her pouring kerosene over herself in my parking lot, screaming out to the police negotiators, “SKOT KURRUK! HE REBUFFED MY CHICKEN-SCENTED ADVANCES! LET THIS BE MY REBUKE!” And then going up in tortured flames, like the career of Colin James Hay, while I was clapped in leg irons and carted off to her parents’ house, where they would be allowed to slash at me with jagged tin-can lids as recompense for ruining the life of their unbalanced daughter.

Fortunately, nothing of the sort ever happened. I ran out my month there (I had merrily lied to the manager about “having long-term goals,” but he hardly seemed to be a stranger to employee turnover), and then went back to school, leaving the whole crew behind me, to whatever fates befell them.

Have you ever worked in fast food?

{ work }