Thursday, April 16, 2009

Chicken Feet

Throughout the years my parents have been involved in some unusual, creative and sometimes all together unheard of business ventures. Of course my mother will say she had the last laugh on everyone who made fun of her, as she spends the summer touring around the country in her rock star bus wearing her fancy sunglasses, never having to worry about punching a time clock or worrying if HR will approve her vacation days. But still, some of these businesses, or proposed businesses have been, well, interesting, to say the least.

One day I'm going to sit down and make a list of every single thing my parents have ever done to make money. This alone could be a novel. From the green lipstick, press on nails, apparently edible, Romanian, anti-aging face cream, to a discount junk store it seems like my parents have done it all. By far though, their strangest business venture ever was Dr. Karcher's Chicken Feet.

I wasn't more than ten when my parents got involved with Dr. Karcher. It started before I went to live with them in New York, before the ordeal with the Hungarian and before Mood Lips.

During a visit with my mother I burned my hand on the iron. It was just a little burn, the size and shape of a silverfish.

"Hold on," my mother said when I showed it to her, "Let me put some Chicken Feet on it."

"You're not putting any chicken feet on me!" I protested, picturing a full, live chicken dancing up and down my arm.

I hadn't seen any chickens. I hadn't smelled their tell-tale manure, the scent of which I was quite familiar living in Millpond my whole life and all. I hadn't heard any buck-buck or cock-a-doodle-do-ing muffled in the linen closet. Surely my mother didn't have chickens now, did she? I mean, it was my mother. Not much would surprise me.

She left and returned with what looked like a white tube of toothpaste with corn colored lettering on the sides. Unscrewing the lid cracked a crust of dried, light yellowish...something which crumbled to the floor. And the smell. It was like opening a kettle of boiling vinegar.

"What IS that?" I asked, in horror.

"I told you, it's Chicken Feet."

"Chicken what?"

"Chicken Feet."

"It doesn't look like chicken feet."

"Well you couldn't very well stuff whole chicken feet into a toothpaste tube could you? They're ground up."

"Ugghh. Eww," I groaned as she smeared the gritty, yellow paste on my tiny burn, which I regretted even showing her.

Dr. Karcher's Chicken Feet salve looked exactly like what it was - ground up chicken feet.

"This is so gross," I complained, "Chickens walk in poop!"

"Well Dr. Karcher washes them off. You think he's going to make medicine with shitty chicken feet? Come on. Dr. Karcher is a brilliant man."

Soon I got to meet him. Dr. Karcher and his wife, Mrs. Dr. Karcher, lived in rural Maryland in the heart of chicken country. They both looked ancient, thin and yellow. People who spend a lot of time around chickens often take on the appearance of poultry themselves and this was certainly the case with the Karchers, who were close to eighty and looked as if they ate nothing but ground up oyster shells and marigold petals. This is what they fed their hundred thousand chickens, who were housed in long, low aluminum bunkers whose rounded roof and walls gave them an ominous, military air. Apparently though, I was wrong. They didn't eat chicken feed. Instead they ate little more than chicken feet, boiled into a gelatinous broth.

"The chicken foot is the most nutritious thing on the planet Earth!" Dr. Karcher explained.

How he'd come up with this notion I never knew, but he talked a lot about his travels in China and what he called "The Orient" and how they ate chicken feet there. This often happens when Westerners visit other countries which they consider exotic. They'll make observations without a great deal of logic. Old people are eating chicken feet in China. Therefore the chicken feet must be the secret to their longevity and of course that's why they're eating them and not because they're poor and oppressed and don't have the wide variety of choices we westerners have at our disposal. Instead, we like to think they have some ancient, secret wisdom that could save all mankind. I suspect this is what was going on with Dr. Karcher. That and insanity.

"In America we just throw the chicken feet away!! Imagine!!! We're throwing away the cure to every disease, every injury, even aging itself!" Dr. Karcher went on.

He said he'd been developing his line of chicken feet pills and salves for fifty years, in secret at his farm. The FDA refused to approve it because it would put the big drug companies out of business. It would make doctors obsolete so everyone was against him. "They" were watching him. He then explained that he'd experimented on stray dogs - dipping them in vats of boiling water. I clapped my hands over my ears so I didn't have to hear anymore. I was seized with a sudden, sweating terror. What if Dr. Karcher had lured us to his farm so that he could experiment on humans?? What if he wanted to dip US in boiling water??

"Oh don't get upset! REX!!!!" he yelled.

An old dog, hairless in places limped into Dr. Karcher's kitchen.

"See, he's fine! After I boiled him I covered him in chicken feet salve and within days he was completely healed! Honey! Give Rex some broth!"

Mrs. Dr. ladled the dog a steaming dish of broth from an enormous pot that bubbled on the stove. I couldn't keep my eyes away from the stove. I didn't want to look, but for some reason, I couldn't stop staring at it. Every few minutes through the rumbling steam a bright yellow chicken foot would bob up at some awful angle, claws branched like a little tree, nails pointing at the ceiling, and then I would quickly avert my eyes, only to look back again a few seconds later.

Rex sniffed the hot liquid and padded out of the room.

In the end, Dr. Karcher did not drop us in boiling water. He simply gave us a box of prototype products for my parents. He wanted them to market his products for him, to use them and see that he was right. Chicken Feet could save the world.

I don't know why, but the Chicken Feet never worked out. Maybe the mysterious "They" had something to do with it. Maybe it was just too gross.

The morning after I burned myself with the iron, my mother asked me how it was. We looked at my hand, turning it over, searching for the burn. I had forgotten about it by then. The burn was gone. There wasn't even a scar.


Amblus said...


Stephanie said...

LOL that's certainly...interesting. Ew, they fed chicken feet to chickens?

Chinese Dim sum restaurants almost always have chicken feet. It's said to be quite tasty and a delicacy in many Asian countries.

JoeinVegas said...

See, the stuff works. She missed her chance at millions. Well, the big drug companies probably would have stopped it anyway.

Decorina said...

OMD, my Italian grandmother used to cook chicken feet with her spaghetti sauce. My aunts and uncles (and my Dad) fought for the feet. Not me, I never did want them anywhere near me.

Great story!

Melanie said...

Just when I think I've heard everything, you come up with another doozey of a yarn.

Good grief, girl. You've lived enough lives for 100 "normal" people!

I realize that I just implied that you were "abnormal", but I mean it in the best possible way!

MtnMama said...

I think your writing is instumental in me preserving my sanity (what is left of it) these days. Don't you love it when you are clearly staring crazy in the face, and eveyone else is "what?"

thank you, thank you!

Anonymous said...

Oh, this story brought back memories! When I was in college (1976 ish), I lived in the dorm with a girl named Kit Fun from China. One night I got up to get a drink of water in the kitchen. There in the sink were a million chicken feet. I muffled a scream and flew back to my bed, forgetting the water. Later, I saw her and her boyfriend using the feet as a spoon, of sort, for their rice.

I hadn't thought about that in many years... until your story!

rat the size of a cat said...

I think I love you.

Cassandra said...

LOL Very interesting - The only use I personally have for chicken feet is feeding them raw to my dog. They have all sorts of good stuff in them better for her than me though :)

/sigh/ I guess that probably makes me almost as nuts as the Dr.

Dayna said...

I can't wait to learn how your parents got to Rock Star Bus Status.

Pickyknitter said...

give me Del Taco any day. I don't mind dying early.
word verification: "readom" ...and weep

KT said...

Amazing :)

Anonymous said...

My grandmother gave me her recipe for chicken and dumplings which I loved. I made them, but they weren't quite as good as hers, so I asked what the difference might be. She asked me if I used chicken feet in my broth. Uh, no... She swore chicken feet were the secret to very tasty broth. Never have been able to bring myself to try it.

TK said...

I have actually eaten chicken feet on New Year's along with dim sum. The feet tasted fine, but there was something just too disgusting about it, it looked almost exactly like it would on the chicken, just puffier and cleaner of course. I guess because I've had parrots and so had similar feet holding my hand and sitting on my shoulder. I couldn't finish the foot, and actually ended my meal right there. I have no problem eating chicken, but don't think I could eat a pet chicken.

Michelle said...

That poor, poor dog.

Anonymous said...

Chicken feet make excellent chicken stock.

AJH said...

There might be some legitimate reasons behind the medical use of chicken feet;

I cannot vouch for the premise, but the link is about asking for research into nerve-regenerating therapy for spinal cord injuries.

Anonymous said...

I 've been a silent reader for a long time. Love your writing but this piece makes me wonder how you're as sane as you are, considering all the craziness you've been through.

I have a crazy and intersting family too but not nearly as funny as yours.

On seeing Rex wander in all hairless and boiled looking, I would have dunked this Dr, balls first into a vat of boiling oil and then applied chicken feet lotion to his gonads.:)), if they were still attached to his body

BTW, I'm an Asian woman and have had chicken and duck feet dimsum

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