The Chicken Dinner

Last night we went to a farm-to-table dinner for the hosts of the chicken coop tour we were on. I spent the day worrying how we were going to finesse the whole being vegetarians thing. I don’t always bust out “Hey, we’re vegetarians” when invited to a dinner by people we don’t know all that well, mainly because I don’t expect special accommodations based on our dietary choices. I just don’t want to be awkward, and I was worried it would be awkward because there is a surprising number of chicken people who eat chicken.

It turned out it wasn’t awkward. I filled up on crackers, bread, some amazing pesto in dip form that was perfect for eating on said crackers and bread, carrots, and some of the best cheese I’ve ever had that prominently featured chunks of bright orange habanero peppers. It took me a while to try the cheese. First, a jolly guy in a sleeveless shirt warned Ben about it and of course Ben tried it anyway and was all OMG that’s so hot. About half an hour later, I tried the tiniest piece I could fish out of the bowl with the provided plastic fork. It wasn’t really as hot as everybody was making it out to be. It’s weird how some hots are hotter to some people than others. Like, Ben can eat hotter green chile than I can, but I’m much better with hot Thai food. I’m surprised the cheese came out in my favor but it did and I ate a lot of it.

I spent most of dinner engaged in conversation with a hyperbolic 3-year-old. It was a pretty casual dinner, spread out over a long table set up in a local homesteading market. Everyone there was a chicken person. We spent the whole day with chicken people, what with being on a chicken coop tour and all. It was pretty fantastic. If there’s one thing I can tell you with absolute certainty about life, it’s that chicken people are awesome. It’s also freeing to be able to talk about chickens whenever you want without being the only person who’s talking about chickens. Do you know what I mean? I’m totally the “chicken lady” at work, the weird hippie who’s always talking about her chickens and how much they enjoy your leftover leafy greens and shit. Or as Ben says, “When you make yourself a salad, you have to make them a salad, too.”

Another thing worth noting: The VIP afterparty of the chicken coop tour involved us going to see a fancy coop in a fancy neighborhood. All the chickens were named after eggs and my favorite was Omelet. I would like to one day have a chicken named Omelet.

As the evening went on, I knew I found my dinner party soul mate when the woman sitting on Ben’s other side told me, “I like to go to national parks and read books about all the ways people have died there.” No wait, I knew she was my dinner party soul mate before that, back when she showed us a video on her phone of one of her chickens wandering through her (quite fancy) house. So we were dinner party BFFs by the time the topic of the love of death in national parks came up.

Something I realized a few weeks ago is that in life, I’ll be better served by spending time reading good writing instead of reading shitty writing and making fun of it. Do you know what I mean? Traditionally, I get bored and hate read shit on the internet and then make fun of it. I know this isn’t the best use of my time but it’s always been one of those guilty pleasures things where I’m all yeah, this is dumb but I don’t always need to be doing the very best thing with my time so it’s cool.

To try something new, instead of reading stupid shit on the internet, I read a novel and I really liked it. I liked it so much it ignited a passion for reading I forgot I had, a passion that goes back to the days when I was a kid reading Jack London books in my yellow suburban bedroom. The book was ridiculous about fishing you in. I’d stand on one leg, my right foot pressed against my left thigh, a weird way I stand sometimes, reading “just one more chapter” before taking a shower or doing whatever I was supposed to be doing instead of reading. Since then I’ve been devouring books. I’ve read novels and a book about homesteading and moving barns from the 1970s and I’m currently reading Into the Wild, which you know I love because I love enthusiastic people who eschew material possessions and go off into the wild and die, even if they’re maybe a little pretentious.

A related development is that when I’m somewhere I don’t have a book handy, such as at work, and I’d normally be reading stupid shit on the internet and making fun of it (while also doing work of course), I’ve started researching various topics that for whatever reason catch my interest. My current topic is people who have died climbing Mt. Everest and K2. This interest is fueled in part because, as a result of all this reading, my passion for writing the novel I’m totally going to write one day has been reignited, and part of the story involves people who die while climbing Mt. Everest or K2. (Having to do research is a barrier I’ve always set for myself that has prevented me from thus far writing a novel. There’s always something I want to include that I don’t know enough about, and I always get totally overwhelmed by the research part and give up the mission because I’d rather never try than get something wrong, apparently.)

The other night after Soren went to bed and Ben and I sat outside drinking beer and smoking weed, I couldn’t help but tell him all about these mountaineering death stories. The serac! It fell! It took out this woman’s husband and she had to watch him die and climb back down the mountain in the dark with no fixed lines, which were also taken out by the serac, which is a gigantic piece of ice the size of a refrigerator or a bus or a house! He thinks I’m nuts (he always thinks I’m nuts) but I guess the truth is the stories we tell are more about us than the people we’re telling them to, anyway.

It was super exciting to find someone who also wants to hear death stories.

It’s also interesting to see the specific interests of people who share a general interest. Well, it’s interesting when you’re one of them. While I’ve been focusing on mountains, my dinner party soul mate has focused on the Grand Canyon. “Never go there,” she said. It’s all steep drops and pencil-thin trails and holy mother of god the burros and who knows what kind of work ethic they have. Personally, I never had anything like a fear of heights until I had a child and experienced the exquisite terror of jolting awake from a half-sleep where I dream of him falling off a cliff while we’re hiking (or, weirdly, falling into a vault toilet, which as it turns out isn’t as scary as I imagined because vault toilets aren’t actually that deep; I spent many horrifying minutes imagine going in after him and having to tread vault-toilet material while waiting for the rescue that would never arrive in time). But now I have a child and no desire to visit the Grand Canyon. What is it that keeps your body from falling off the edge? I don’t know. We used to sit in the Burge lobby (that’s the party dorm) and talk about this shit. What keeps you from jumping? What keeps you from taking your clothes off and running through Milton Rosenbaum’s gigantic psychology lecture class? We didn’t know. (When I worked at a residential treatment facility for mentally ill adults, one of the residents was an accomplished pianist who was found wandering naked on the streets of Chicago. This job made me nervous because I was never able to pinpoint what differentiated me from the residents.)

“Oh!” I say, taking a drink of my vanilla porter. “Do you know about the death zone?” Of course she did, but I was able to confirm that it starts at approximately 25,000 feet. In the death zone, humans can never acclimate. You can spend a limited time in the death zone and then after that, well, you just die. Even if you survive your trip to the death zone, crazy shit happens to you. It’s fucking cold, and you start to make bad decisions as a result of the effects being at that altitude have on your body. So many things can go wrong, as a result of the terrain or the weather or what the altitude does to your body. It’s crazy shit.

And until a few days ago, I didn’t know it existed. I was spending my free time reading about sellout hippies on the internet and their ugly-ass c/o wardrobes and Minnetonkas. That was a stupid waste of time. I’m far better served by learning about the 2008 K2 Disaster, which makes me far more interesting at dinner parties, I think.