Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Working with Frank

I had been working for Perdue for several weeks, but Thanksgiving would be the first day I'd actually be working with Frank himself. I was told to report to the big refrigerator at 9 A.M. sharp. I had never been to the big refrigerator before. My regular job was proofreading recipe labels. This was a special assignment.

When I entered the refrigerator I saw a short, fat, bald man. I went up to him and said, "I was told to report to Mr. Perdue."

In a voice that was unmistakable he said, "I'm Frank Perdue."

He looked very different than he did on TV--shorter and decidedly fatter, but the voice was that same nasal whine that had become his trademark.

"So you're the fella who's gonna be workin' with me?" he asked.

I told him I was.

"What do you usually do?"

I told him.

"Well, you've been doin' a good job. I haven't caught one mistake yet."

I smiled. There are few things more rewarding than being complimented on your work by the big boss.

"Well, are you ready to get to work?" he asked.

"Sure," I said. "What are we doing?"


"Hauling?" I asked.

"Yes. We've gotta haul these birds from the inner cooler--not freezer--I never freeze my birds--and we've gotta leave them by the door for the truckers to pick 'em up." He then went on to explain why we had to haul the birds to the door. Apparently it's a union rule. The truckers have it in their contract that they never go into the inner cooler, which is somewhat cooler, actually just above freezing, than the rest of the refrigerator room.

So we went into the inner cooler and started hauling these big turkeys to the door. There were piles and piles of turkeys, and they must have all been about twenty pounds apiece. And we had to haul all of them. By themselves they're not too much trouble to lift, but after a while it's the cumulative effect that gets to you. And I must admit I was a bit out of shape. I found myself wishing I was back home, spending Thanksgiving with my family. But I realized that Thanksgiving was a big day in the poultry business.

I decided to try to make some small talk with Frank, to make the time pass more quickly.

"Mr Perdue," I said, and he cut me off.

"Oh, you can call me Frank."

"Frank," I said, "I never knew you handled turkeys."

"There's a lot you don't know, young man," he said. "For one thing, they're not turkeys."

"What are they?"

"These are my new big-breasted super-vixen oven stuffer roasters. Just perfect for those big family get-togethers, like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Passover."

"I've never seen such big chickens," I said. "How do you do it?"

"It's done with a combination of genetic engineering and nuclear radiation," he said. "And the results are just scrumptious."

I was definitely taking a liking to Frank. He had a delightful way about him that you just couldn't resist. I felt so comfortable with him that I decided to be bolder, to ask him some more personal questions.

"Frank," I said, "how come you're doing this kind of work? After all, you're the President and founder of this company. You're the man on the TV commercials. Couldn't you get somebody else to do the hauling?"

"Young man," he said, "I'm a poultry man, and any poultry man who's worth his salt has got to get some chicken fat under his fingernails every now and again."

"Frank," I said, this time taking an even bigger risk, "how come you look so different on TV?"

"A simple video trick," he said. "They do it all with the vertical and horizontal adjustments." He was quiet for a few seconds; then he said, "Come with me."

I followed him to the room adjacent to the big refrigerator. It was a wine cellar. Well, not actually a cellar--we were on the fourteenth floor.

"Bet you didn't take me for a wine drinker," he said. "Bet you thought all I drank was Coca Cola."

I didn't say anything. He took a bottle of white wine from one of the racks and handed it to me.

"Here, take this garlic-flavored wine home to your family and have a nice Thanksgiving dinner."

"You mean after we're done?" I asked.

"No, you can go now," he said. "I'll finish up myself. It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken, but that toughness has to be tempered with mercy."

I thanked him and thought to myself, garlic-flavored wine. Sounds interesting. I can't wait to see how it tastes.

This was written ca. 1984 and was originally published in Between a Dream and a Cup of Coffee.


Blogger David said...

Very funny! I want to read the book. Isaiah Mindich

10:08 PM  

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