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Mr. Tan Shoes and me at KFC

Jan WilbergThe other night at KFC, an older guy came in while I was waiting for my order. His hair was completely white and he wore those tan orthopedic shoes that are popular with folks fed up with pretending. He ordered a big bucket of chicken and two sides. Just like me.

I hadn’t been in a KFC in 10 years but the idea of fried chicken after a long day of helping a friend clear out her dead mother’s house seemed irresistible, so much so that I drove a mile past it and then made a U-turn, no mean trick in my husband’s new F-150 which has a turning radius of about a half mile. I went inside the KFC because ordering at the drive-thru makes me crazy. It’s indecipherable. Summed up as ‘what kind of sauce?’ What Kind of Sauce? WHAT KIND OF SAUCE? Screaming for food, I hate it. One of the queer life impediments of major hearing loss.

So I parked the silver bomber (aka the Chromemobile) and went inside.

“You know it makes a lot more sense to just get a small soda and fill it up than to get a big one.” He demonstrated by filling his small cup.

“So true,” I nodded, although this lesson has taken me many years to learn. The wisdom of age comes in these tiny droplets. Buy the small soda and refill it. You heard it here. From me on the mount.

His talking about soda made me want to have one. Suddenly, at that moment, there was nothing I wanted more than a small soda.

So I ordered one. The KFC guy handed me a cup, just a tad larger than what one might pee in at the doctor’s. “That is certainly small,” I said. Then he handed me a larger cup. So now I had two cups. There was dialogue that went along with all these cups but I only caught part of it. I’m a week into my new cochlear implant and, man, there is a ton of stuff I don’t get. Which is somewhat a what’s new situation but not.

After I got my soda and tossed the smaller cup in the trash, I continued waiting at the counter with Mr. Tan Shoes. He smiled at me. It seemed like he was trying to come up with another conversational gambit since the soda size topic kind of fizzled out.

You know where this is going. You can see it coming down the highway like a semi-truck hauling one of those mobile homes, big flags on either side and a little car in front warning the world of an “OVERSIZE LOAD.”

“So,” Mr. Tan Shoes said, leaning on the counter like he was waiting for another round of jello shots at the Christmas party and nodding in the direction of the ‘kitchen.’ I waited.

He shrugged and I could feel him wondering if we would have this one thing in common. Maybe it would be the start of something.

“Extra crispy or original recipe?”

Our eyes locked.

“Oh, original recipe,” I answered, frowning and shaking my head like I found just the thought of extra crispy to be beyond the pale. Unacceptable. Unorthodox. Trifling with the KFC brand. “Definitely original recipe,” I added, just to make sure I was in the right column. FOR original recipe. AGAINST extra crispy.

Then my order came up. At exactly the same moment, Mr. Tan Shoes and I said exactly the same thing, making me wonder later if I’d passed on a once in a lifetime opportunity.

“Have a good evening,” we chorused.

And we did, I think, each with our own perfect chicken.

— Jan Wilberg

Jan Wilberg writes about everything from national politics to outwitting rats in the basement with the help of her two sons. She is a mother, grandmother and a formerly hearing impaired person rejoicing in the miracle of her new cochlear implant. Her blog Red’s Wrap has a tagline that says it all: Happiness. It’s relative.

Reflections of Erma