Chicken-fried Steak: There is comfort.

Chicken-fried steak courtesy of Serpentine

Chicken-fried steak courtesy of Serpentine

Well, now I’ve seen everything. As it was pointed out to me recently, voting Californians care more for the rights of chickens than they do for those of gay men and women. In my bubble-wrapped bio-degradable peanut-wrapped little world of well-educated, thoughtful, and admittedly left-leaning friends and co-workers, I had previously thought this was all but impossible.

I believed I didn’t know a single person– especially anyone close to me– who would, by touching a button or drawing a little black line to connect an arrow in a voting booth, actively raise a finger to institutionalize discrimination against me, or my sister, or my brother who, in a very real sense, died from internalizing all the hate and ignorance, both spoken and unspoken, that surrounds gay men and women and tells us we are not as deserving of happiness as everyone else. The electorate has demanded that a chicken be allowed the freedom to fully spread its wings and, in the same breath, has seen to it that I am not allowed to fully stretch mine.

It’s nothing personal against chickens. Honest.

I have been chafing at the logic that homosexuals should somehow be satisfied with domestic partnerships and not get hung up on the word “marriage”. And my blood is boiling over the 1,400,000 million-vote difference between those who voted for Barak Obama and those who voted No on Proposition 8. The stench of this hypocritical difference has settled in my nostrils and killed my appetite for the past couple of days. And that’s saying something.

Does anyone remember a cute little Supreme Court decision handed down in 1896? No? Well, I’ve got three words for you. Since those words are unprintable, I shall give you another three:

Plessy versus Ferguson.

Oh, and here are three more words that came out of that historically painful and embarrassing decision:

Separate but equal.

*image courtesy of Jay Floyd

*image courtesy of Jay Floyd

Yes we can? Not in California, we didn’t. Not so much.

Well, I’m getting hungry again. And I need a little bit of comforting. It does help that all my straight friends have been actively giving their support, but I need a little more. I need to fill my belly with something other than burning bile. I will resist the urge to drink the blood of all the innocent children I had planned to corrupt by getting married and go for something a little more low key to satisfy my hunger. Something fried. Something bad for my arteries, but tonic for my soul.

I want Chicken-fried steak.

It strikes me as odd that I should crave something that is the unofficial dish of Texas. Or that, given the chicken’s newly-found superior status over me, that I would crave something so transparently pro-poultry-life. It’s not as though I’d ever encountered it in my childhood. Of course, that may very well be what makes it such a comfort. It is a dish I discovered in college– a time when I was busy forging my own identity as an adult.

I first encountered Chicken-fried steak at (foodies, look away) Denny’s. A photograph of the dish caught my attention, popping off the image-bloated and ketchup-sticky pages of the menu more dramatically than the competing Moons over My Hammy. It was too late to be up, I’d most likely been out either drinking or dancing or depressed over my not-quite-out-of-the-closet status or some combination of all three, and my body called out for something fried to soak up both my sorrow and my alcohol intake.

I sat there, staring at the menu, trying to make sense of the dish. Chicken-fried Steak. On the one hand, I immediately got it– pounded beef, served up as one would serve fried chicken. Basically, it’s a more aged version of Wienerschnitzel, but served up with biscuits and anemic-looking gravy. On the other, I was caught up in the phrasing. Chicken-fried. The immediate mental image was that of a cartoonish hen, complete with pearls and frilly apron, frying up a piece of beaten-to-death cow. The evil, self-satisfied smile on her face convinced me that this dish was somehow subversive– that there was some clever, morbid joke behind the creation of this dish. So I ordered it, naturally.

And, oddly, I felt much better for it. And it continues to have this mystifying effect on me. It may be its ability to fill my stomach, thereby draining as much blood as possible from my over-worked brain to aid digestion. It could be the fat and cholesterol that coats and calms me into some false sense of protection. I really don’t know. All I know is that, for whatever reason, it works for me and I refuse to give into too much analysis. That would ruin everything.

Chicken-fried steak has lifted me up in some of my lowest of moments. It has comforted me on my journeys home from bank-breaking college trips to Las Vegas when the only money I had left in the world was spent on gas and this menu item. It has been consumed through endless, supportive conversations with friends in times of disease and unavoidable death, and recently it has been there to help salve a mopey, broken heart.

And now, I am calling on it to fortify me through this mess.

I never intend to make it myself. I don’t even want to know exactly how it is made, so I will not give a recipe, let alone look at one. It is a dish best served to me, rather than by me. Preferably by a waitress whose shoulders have been slightly hunched by the weight of trouble and too many years of taking the brutal insensitivity and orders of strangers. I need this not to feel superior to someone else in my moment of gloom. I need it because I want to look her straight in the eye as if to say, “Girl, I know exactly how you feel.” But I won’t say it. She may not want that kind of empathy. Or me calling her “Girl”. So instead, I’ll just give her everything I have in my wallet and go home, bloated and tired, but somehow fortified enough to carry on.

Until the next time.

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About Michael Procopio

I write about food and am very fond of Edward Gorey. And gin.
This entry was posted in Rants and Stories and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Chicken-fried Steak: There is comfort.

  1. Jay in (not of) Los Angeles says:

    It’s one of those dishes that you can’t gussy up, no matter how hard you try.

    And in that way, it is the same as anti-gay oppression. You can call it the ‘Protection of Marriage’, but it’s still just bigotry, plain and simple.

    To the 70% of black Californians who voted for Obama but against my right to marry, I’ll have to wait for my kind words for you to return. They’re currently gone and have left no forwarding address.

  2. Erika Hettinger says:

    Just wanted to say that this was the first time I’ve read your blog and having a read a few entries I am really impressed!

    Loved the irony of the chicken spreading its wings. 🙂

  3. Shannon says:

    Wanted to let you know that your goddaughter insisted on coming to the voting booth with me and pushing the button to vote NO on Prop 8.

    Agreed, this scenario is fucked up. One small compensation is that you were spurred to write a truly excellent post.

  4. Liz Ditz says:

    Hi Michael! I’m Shannon’s friend Liz.

    I am heartsick over the passage of Prop. 8, but it isn’t the end of the road.

    I have a woolly and unscientific theory on why Prop. 8 passed — there were enough people who voted for Obama, but were just a little out of their comfort zone, so voted Yes on Prop. 8 to reassure themselves they weren’t going totally over to the liberal side.

    I’d like to see a precinct by precinct map, comparing Obama votes to Yes on 8 votes. That’s where the swing voters are, in my opinion.

    And the next step? Like danah boyd says, , “We need to fight on cultural grounds, not legal grounds”.

  5. EP says:

    At least nobody wants to fry you up and eat you!

  6. Nicky D. says:

    It’s v. ironic that we got stuck with the same ol’-stick-up-his-bum-culture-hating PM but we can still get married, and you get the dream(iest) President ever but you end up second class citizens. It makes me want to eat heaps and heaps of drug store bought chocolate.

    Uhm, maybe that’s not the best marker of my indignation but at least I’m channeling it in the right direction.

    You have combined congratulations and sympathy from Canada.

  7. Sean says:

    EP: I think there are individuals who want to do either of the above, but not both.

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