Dec 24, 2010

Colonel Sanders Was a Sadistic Muthafucka (and Other Scenes from Childhood)

When I was a little girl, three things truly terrorized me that I can recall.

The first thing was garbage trucks. Actually, to this day, I still have the occasional recurrent nightmare about a garbage truck—something about the crushing mechanism is horribly brutal to me, not to mention that deep down I’m pretty sure I’m a potential (read: future) hoarder, and thus the idea of the discarding and destroying of personal items really stirs my demons.

Speaking of demons, the second thing that terrified me was my dad’s friend Frankie Brody. Whenever this dude came by our apartment, I would cower behind my mother’s blue twill swivel chair. Mind you, Frankie Brody never really did anything bad to me—as much as I’d like to report my fear and anxiety justified by some sort of salacious sexual abuse story that would pull both heartstrings and blog hits. But alas, Frankie, who looked a little like Gene Wilder circa Stir Crazy, really wasn’t guilty of committing any lewd acts other than the wearing of too-tight corduroy pants and a porno mustache. And I—a four-year-old little girl who stood at perfect eye-to-crotch level with most adult males-- was afraid of this? Go figure.

The third thing that scared the shit out of me—like pee-in-my-pants scared--was Colonel Sanders. I had forgotten about this until recently, when I saw one of those retro KFC ads they’ve been airing, and got an almost-instantaneous feeling of anxiety in my gut. This was not a reaction to the ad’s images of greasy fried chicken (one of my favorite foods as a child), nor was it a response to the shell of a character we now commonly see in illustrated ads for KFC (a character no more seemingly sentient than the Izod alligator or the Chicken of the Sea mermaid). No, my anxiety was triggered by the the actor-portrayed character who was featured in nearly every Kentucky Fried Chicken commercial of my youth, and the youth of every other kid who grew up in the seventies and eighties.

I was so afraid of the Colonel, that even though his eleven herbs and spices made me weak in the finger-lickin’ depths of my little-girl soul, I would only eat his chicken if my parents brought it home as takeout. Why? I was afraid that if I went to the restaurant, I’d actually have to see the Colonel. In person. Indeed, I was convinced that the Colonel lived at our local KFC. It really did not matter how many times my folks assured me that the man on the TV wasn’t the real Colonel, and that even if he were, they were pretty sure that the real Colonel was not hanging out at any of the KFCs in the greater New York tri-state area.

Still, I wasn’t taking any chances. Bring that bucket home. And don’t forget the coleslaw.

My friend Cherie and I have had a couple of conversations about chicken, which is funny, because neither of us actually eat the bird in real life. Recently we were having cocktails at the Guadalajara restaurant in Oakland, and I was waxing poetic about the Popeye’s in the strip mall across the street.

“Mm…Popeye’s,” I sighed wistfully, as I fiddled to adjust my large hoop earring that had somehow become bent and mangled during the course of the evening.

“You don’t even eat chicken.”

“Neither do you. But I eat shrimps! They have chicken-flavored shrimps there! Mm…fast-food shrimps…”

The next day, Cherie posted this on my Facebook page:

Ya know…big hoop earrings (with a dent in em no doubt)…and sitting in a Mexican restaurant but eyeballing the Popeye's chicken across the street. I'm beginning to believe you're a Black chick.

Coming from Cherie, my dear friend and one of the most fabulous black chicks ever, it goes without saying that I took this observation as a supreme compliment. Unfortunately, Cherie's chicken-centric Facebook post and my impending coronation as Honorary Black Chick only seemed to make me crave fast-food fried chicken even more. I logged out of Facebook and headed down to 70th and International for some popcorn shrimp and mashed potatoes at my local Popeye’s.

Of course, I contacted Cherie when I remembered my childhood issues with the Colonel. I knew she’d have something insightful to add to my revelations about the scary chicken-peddler. As it turns out, she too had been bad-vibed by the devil in the white suit. 

“I seriously used to ask my mama how come the Colonel could be famous in this day and age and continue to look like a slave owner," Cherie said. "She said, 'Because he's from Kentucky.' Ohh Colonel Sanders, you touched all our worlds in some psychotic way.”

Of course, the Colonel was born in 1890, many years after the abolition of slavery in the United States, but there have been allegations that he ripped-off a black woman for her chicken recipe. Some still continue to speculate that that he was racist, as well as possibly a member and/or supporter of the KKK, even though the once-popular urban legend that he willed 10% of his company's proceeds to the Klan has been debunked (Sanders turned the company's financial decisions and negotiations over to investors many years prior to his death).  But one might ask, are those the same investors who approved this now-notorious KFC advertisement? Hmm...

Was it possible that, as a small Jewish child, I had sensed what Cherie had also concluded about the old, wealthy Southerner? Was it possible that it wasn’t chicken I was smelling, but rather crow? Jim Crow, that is!

“OH, total slave owner,” Cherie said. “I just don't see how we can make him all cartoon and precious when he clearly advocates slavery. Look at his outfit! That cane is a weapon!
He hates black people, he does."

Did I mention that I love Cherie?

Anyway, far be it from me to perpetuate scandalous rumors about a dead man, but they say children can sense evil, and I tend to think that’s true sometimes. A few years after we moved out of the area, my dad learned that his friend Frankie Brody had gotten into some trouble with the police, as well as with his insurance company, when he filed a dubious claim for the “accidental” incineration of his vehicle. I was proud to give my parents a lofty told-ya-so when this information came to light, and I credit my inner business-savvy Jew with allowing me to sense that Frankie dude was shady, even as a child. Having said that, I am not going to be so presumptuous (read: edgy!) as to suggest that it was my inner strong black woman who triggered my sixth sense about the Colonel and what could possibly have been his triflin’, white supremacist ways—but it sure was something.

Now pass the muthafuckin’ coleslaw.

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Carl Belken said...

I like your post. It reminded me of one of my dad's friends who came around our farm house often.

You knew he was coming for a visit because the dogs started raising hell long before he arrived.

He always seemed to have a four day growth of beard. In the early sixties there was a rumor going around that he had not bathed since 1948. His shack had no running water.

I was afraid of this man because when I was 4 years old he always kept threatening to chew my ears off. The mere thought of that tobacco stained beard and his snaggled yellow teeth getting close to my face terrified me.

If I complained to my parents they'd tell me to stop being a crybaby and man up. "He's only teasing" they'd say.

Yes I completely understand about childhood fears.

tsada kay said...

Thank you for sharing your memory, Carl. I think you shared a similar experience.

Children are so wise, especially when it comes to the spirit of others.

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Unknown said...

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