The Road to Dinner
I had put over ten hours into Frankenbird, and all I had to show for it was a big sutured bag of muscle, fiber and cholesterol and a very small puddle of fat in the bottom of a roasting pan. Meanwhile, arrival time approached.
I tend to react badly when things don’t progress on the schedule I have set out. I get very anxious and a little stern. I insist that things go the way I want them to go, without complications. Well, here was one fat, ugly complication, an uncooperative brick of semi-raw food. So, I didn’t like postponing dinner. It was one step removed from failure. From incompetence. So, I waited (in my mind anyway) until the last responsible minute.
The first time I called my mother, it was about four in the afternoon. I had had my first inkling that I should call at about two thirty, but I immediately blocked that out. Just plain denial. I thought I could make this go right, as if my wishing it would somehow generate heat in the chilled center of oyster and tarragon and sourdough bread.
—It doesn’t look like dinner will be ready in time. Let’s postpone until six.
—Are you sure that will be enough time? she asked.
Did she know? How? How could she know?
—Yeah, I think so.
I masked apprehension with confidence, spoke as if I had make a hundred Frankenbirds, as if I were an expert in turduckenology. As if I had put in my time on the assembly line in remote Louisiana with a bunch of underpaid Cajuns. Chef Prudhomme’s Holiday Turducken University and Sweat Shop.
I assured her that an hour should certainly be fine. I had everything under control. I completely bullshat my mother, as if she would care, as if my honor lay in that pale, sweaty monster in my oven. As if she didn’t know.
To pass the time I set the table, straightened up, checked the temperature of Frankenbird every 15 minutes. The pool of sweat was slowly growing, but it still did not cover the bottom of my roasting pan.
And, you know, at two hundred twenty five degrees an oven does feel a little sauna-ish when you open the door.
I wondered if I should turn the temperature up, but that would risk the burned/raw dilemma I had read about. Screw it, leave it alone. Follow the directions for once.
Then I noticed an odor, not unpleasant, begin to fill my little house.
The old adage A watched pot never boils applies to turduckens. A watched turducken just sits on its fat ass and doesn’t cook. Or, a watched turducken only sweats. No matter how many times I thrust my thermometer (I was thrusting now) into my perspiring poultry (and I thrust it a lot), Frankenbird’s temperature barely changed.
An hour passed. I thought I was going to throw myself a little party when the temperature broke one hundred degrees. My heart-in-denial leapt. There’s hope, it said. But still, at five, we were at one hundred.
The second time I called my mother, I said,
—I am going to need to postpone one more hour. We’ll have dinner at seven.
—It really doesn’t matter, she told me, we could have anything.
I am sure it didn’t matter… to her, but Frankenbird had thrown the gauntlet down right there in my harvest gold Kenmore oven.
I thanked her for the understanding and I told her that if worse came to worse (like?), we would go with plan B (which I didn’t have).
I waited. I thrust the thermometer into my obsession. I waited. I thrust. I watched the clock the way I watched Frankenbird. I waited. I thrust. Over and over. The next hour passed ever so slowly.
Finally, the obvious, what anyone would have seen hours ago, forced itself upon me. For whatever reason, Frankenbird wasn’t coming to dinner on time, or at any time that day. There was no way.
The third time I called my mother, I said:
—Fuck it (I actually said fuck it. At this point, who cared). I’ ll go down to Safeway and buy some pasta and sauce. Why don’t you meet me up here in about forty five minutes.
She chuckled and agreed and that was that.
Frankenbird sat like a slowly warming rock in the oven.
I drove down to Safeway (which is open twenty four hours all year, even on the most religious or patriotic of holidays: you have to love the integrity capitalism and true capitalists), and bought the fixings for pasta, in forms that did not require much preparation. Then I returned home and set about making Thanksgiving fettuccini with roasted garlic sauce from a jar. Safeway’s house brand.
My mother and sister arrived after the windows in my house had grown thick condensation, from steam inside and fall night air without. And I mean night: it was dark and chilly.
I showed them the reluctant food in the oven. My mother was mildly interested, my sister not at all. We left Frankenbird to cook while we finished pasta prep and ate our Thanksgiving fettuccini.
During dinner I obsessed over Frankenbird. I needed to know how long it would take, even though I knew noone would eat it. I checked its temperature every twenty minutes or so, which, although still stupid, is slightly less so than every ten or fifteen. About eight o’clock, I pronounced to everyone at table that Frankenbird would be done at about ten or ten thirty. I mean, how proud can one person be? It’s just food.
Dinner lasted until about nine thirty that evening. After my mother and sister left, I cleaned up and put in a DVD. When that was done, I put in another. Long movies, by the way.
Finally, at four thirty five that morning, the day after Thanksgiving, I got tired of waiting. Frankenbird was five degrees from goal temperature. So close, yet so far.
The hell with it. I was tired and I was beaten. Frankenbird had out-lasted me. Persisted beyond my endurance. And the harvest gold electric Kenmore oven circa 1973 had been on for 22 straight hours. The coils inside the chamber had been radiant for almost one day, a complete moon revolution. Any money I had saved in clever shopping, I had certainly dribbled away into the puddle of Frankenbird’s sauna fat.
I turned the oven off and took Frankenbird, not gently, out of it stainless steel, reflective sauna chair and put it on a platter in my refrigerator. After all this time, I would be damned if I was going to wait for it to cool down.
In the morning, after about four hours of sleep, I rose and made my coffee. Once done, I set about tearing Frankenbird apart.
True to character, Frankenbird disgusted me as much cooked as did raw. After everything I had been through, the smell, the look of the pathetic, swollen carcass still repulsed me. It was still bloated and lumpy. Only, now its lumps were a sort of brownish color that resembled partially cooked turkey.
Tearing apart a cooked monster is as repugnant as constructing the raw one. Pulling the legs and wings away sounded like… well, zombies in a movie tearing apart the bodies of charred victims. Except, I could feel the ripping, the sundering of cooked muscle and skin, as well as hear it. All that stuffing. Some cooked. Some looking as if it were cooked, but I was never totally sure.
I bagged the stuffing in Ziploc bags, as I did most of the meat, and put them in the freezer. And when I was done I cleaned my kitchen of all traces of the last few days. I did not want obvious physical evidence laying around reminding me of my complete subjegation to that horrible food product, one that I did not want to make in the first place. Then I went slowly about my business on that fine autumn day.
And as for what remained of Frankenbird, all I can say is, my dog really liked it.