A recent trip to the hardware store was typical. I needed an item to perform what I hoped would be a simple home repair. Although I knew what the item was, I had no idea of its proper name or its whereabouts in the store. The fact that this item might appear in any number of sections of the store did not help matters. After several minutes of wandering up and down the store’s aisles, a young sales clerk asked if I needed help.
“Oh, no thank you,” I said, “I’m just looking.” Pride goeth before a fall.
I had the same exchange with another young clerk, and then another. I finally relented and within minutes the three store employees and I were engaged in a spirited conversation concerning whatever it was I was looking for. Nobody had a clue. I wrote off their incompetence to youth; they wrote off mine to dotage, a word they had recently learned from Kim Jong-un.
I thanked the clerks for their efforts and retired to the paint section, where I spent several minutes marveling at not only the cost of paint but the seemingly endless choice of colors. I’m not sure that a healthy nation needs that many paint choices. Furthermore, is avocado the right color for any exterior structure? I vaguely remember a few people having that color refrigerator back in the Fifties. Of course, Midwesterners wouldn’t have known about avocados back then; we just thought it was a weird shade of green.
I moved on.
I found a couple of packages of Chicken Flingers and took them to the check-out counter. Chicken Flingers are perhaps the most intriguing product I’ve found in the last eleven years. Maybe longer, but eleven is a notoriously funny number. It wouldn’t be if there was a number outside of the metric system that began with “k,” but there isn’t and so eleven wins by default. Anyway, Chicken Flingers are little rubber chicken-like toys with hollowed-out thoraxes. You place your index finger inside the thorax, aim its beak at a target, pull the rubber tail feather and let go. Sometimes it flies across a room and sticks to a wall, which is very funny and people laugh; other times, it drops limply a few inches in front of you, with is also very funny and people laugh. Every now and then it will hit your boss on the forehead, which is particularly funny but doesn’t look good at your annual performance review.
We keep a supply of Chicken Flingers on hand to offer as special-occasion gifts to our friends. At a certain point in life, one wants to get rid of stuff, not accumulate more. We’ve reached that point, as have most of our friends. Chicken Flingers, we have found, are the perfect gift—that special something they would never have bought for themselves and don’t mind losing.
All of which leads to the topic at hand: Whatever happened to free hats?
There was a time not too long ago when you could walk into a farm implement store, ask some pointed questions about combine harvesters and walk out with a free hat as well as a reprint of an article from Yesterday’s Farmer about winnowing-fans in ancient Greece.
Sadly, those days are gone forever. The “gimme” cap has gone the way of other things one doesn’t see anymore, like ancient Greece, flat wooden ice cream spoons, telephone booths and politicians dedicated to public service.
At the hardware store they were selling baseball-style caps for $14.99. These weren’t just any baseball caps mind you, these were caps emblazoned with the logo of a company that makes chainsaws. While those chainsaws are probably a fine product made somewhere in China (the hats are made there in the factory next door), I’m not sure that I want to be that company’s walking billboard and pay $14.99 for the privilege.
Think about it. The millionaire professional golfers whose every putt is deemed “dangerous” by whispering television announcers, have products advertised on their caps, shirt sleeves, breast pocket, bag, gloves, pants and shoes. They don’t buy those patches or the articles on which they’re sewn or appliqued. They get them for free, along with six- and seven-figure checks.
The same is true of professional left-turn-only drivers. The STP decal is not on any racing car’s hood because it’s cool. STP, along with about a thousand other sponsors—per car—pays big bucks for that showcase.
Curiously, there’s little crossover sponsorship between NASCAR and the PGA except for Viagra. What does this tell us? What does this say about our society? Perhaps we have too many paint choices.
Back when I made a good portion of my annual income writing about the two-headed turtles I had interviewed, I was assigned to go Christmas shopping on Rodeo Drive to show the vast majority of my newspaper’s readership that they couldn’t afford to park in Beverly Hills, let alone shop there. The editors figured that this kind of story not only embodied the true spirit of the season but also helped plunge many of our readers into that depression so unique to the holidays.
Back then, many of the stores on Rodeo Drive were so exclusive that they kept their doors locked during business hours, which is mostly illegal. It was like trying to get into Studio 54 if you hadn’t appeared in a Warhol movie or slept with Warren Beatty. Anyway, a couple of stores wouldn’t let me in and those that did treated me like…well, I’m sure you get the picture.
Thirty-five years ago, clerks at Rodeo Drive stores attended six weeks of intensive training to learn how to look down their noses at their fellow human beings and to develop vocal accents that had no discernible place of origin. While this might seem an odd approach to customer service to most of us, it is well appreciated by those willing and able to spend $30,000 for a wristwatch.
Most of the stores on Rodeo Drive were named for a single celebrity designer and at one of them I feigned interest in a belt with the designer’s three initials burned onto the belt and etched into the brass buckle. I thought that $300 was a lot of money for a belt with somebody else’s initials. I suggested that perhaps they pay me $300 to wear the belt. That way, I’d be advertising the designer’s product and keeping my trousers up with great style.
I could tell from the way she looked down her nose at me that the clerk didn’t like my attitude. I asked her if Yves might have a gimme cap I could have. She asked me, in an accent I couldn’t quite place, to leave.
Whoever devised Chicken Flingers did not over-think the concept. It is simple and pure and that is why it’s successful. I’ve found over the years that if ever there’s a problem with roast chicken it stems from the cook’s over-thinking the concept and then over-cooking the chicken. Roast chicken is the protein foundation for what I consider to be a nearly perfect meal, even if it is one without pasta.
Buy as good a chicken as your budget will allow—one that weighs about three pounds. (If it still has feet and they happen to be blue, you are in France with a bird called a Bresse Gauloise and you should find somebody there to make your dinner while you savor a bottle or two of Chateauneuf du Pape.) Wipe the bird dry with paper towels and season it generously, inside and out, with salt and pepper. Stab a whole lemon with the tines of a fork several times and stick it into the bird’s cavity. Add a sprig of fresh rosemary or some thyme, maybe a clove or two of crushed garlic. Truss the bird (optional) and place into a cast iron pan that has been lightly coated with olive oil. Roast the chicken in an oven pre-heated to 425º until the juices run clear from the thigh (40-50 minutes). Let rest, covered, while you make a sauce by sautéing a tablespoon or so of shallots in the pan drippings. Add some white wine (cognac or Madeira works nicely as well) and reduce. Whisk in some Dijon mustard, some chicken stock and, finally, cream. Simmer until thickened. Finish with a little butter.
I like this meal with either roasted red potatoes and carrots, or mashed potatoes and broccoli rabe quickly sautéed in olive oil and seasoned with red pepper flakes.
Photography by Courtney A. Liska