The healthiest relationship you can have is the cultivation of self-love, however the longest relationship most people actually will have is with their anxiety. Me and my most insidious manifestation of anxiety, whom I’ve named Sheila, were up late together a few nights ago. Of course, I was trying to fall asleep and dream of something resplendent like soaring over a fantastical coastline, imbued with the gift of flight, arm in arm with Christina Hendricks while we dropped water balloons filled with a non-lethal but a certainly memorable amount of sodium hydroxide over people using selfie sticks. Sheila, however, wanted to talk. It’s not that I don’t listen to her or give her the time of day. In fact, we talk quite often. One could even make the very clear statistical argument that she and I talk more often than most of my friends and I do. Thus, at around two in the morning, Sheila decided to remind me where I learned what the winning combination of death and cognitive dissonance looked like.
At the dreadful age of eleven years old, I had just sat down in my 6th grade homeroom class with the ceremonial thud of my oversized three-ringed binder that zipped up on all sides, lest my precious documents accidentally defenestrate themselves and into the wrong hands. Who knows what our enemies abroad could have done with my lackadaisical renderings Storm, Rogue, or any of the numerous underrepresented women of the X-Men whom I had drawn with anatomically impossibly large breasts. I shudder to think.
The day started as inconsequentially as so many others had before in homeroom.
For those of you who are unfamiliar, homeroom was a 45-minute period that we had every morning to start off our day at Highland View (now Linus Pauling) Middle School. For the life of me I cannot tell you the bulk of what we actually did in these classes. The only lessons that I seem to recall in the twenty year gulf between my attendance of these classes and now- the interim period consisting of problematically heavy drinking, and other fond memories- are a few vocabulary lessons, and one lightly traumatizing if not informative day where I was taught how to pluck and butcher an entire live chicken by my teacher Nancy Matsumoto’s husband.
Yes, dear reader, you read that correctly. Perhaps your conceptual understanding of the great state of Oregon: the Western Meadowlark that has flown with her own wings since her governmentally sanctioned coronation into white ownership on Valentine’s Day of 1859, is that we are a bunch of soy-latte guzzling liberal ne’er do well’s that would open up a Whole Food’s if given the opportunity faster than a New Yorker can turn on an underperforming Yankees batting rotation. A home of socially conscious warriors fighting an endless uphill battle regarding everything from the irrefutably righteous to the lamentably infinitesimal with no issue too small to take umbrage with.
Now, within the confines of Portland and some small pockets, you would be largely correct, and I am proud to consider myself among them.
However, outside of Portland, save for a few sections of Eugene, Bend, and one particular neighborhood in Ashland, my greater descriptors evading me in favor of clarity, it’s country as shit.
I grew up in one such rather sequestered hamlet in the Willamette Valley called Corvallis. A place where the flag of the noble beaver, the amphibious wood-gnawing member of the vermin family, is flown underneath the American flag on every street corner of the 14.3 square miles the township encompasses.
That said, no such day occurred like this before, and due to the incongruously swift action of the Corvallis PTA, I believe no such day has occurred since. Though, looking back as an adult, I’m extremely grateful for having finally been taught such a visceral lesson outside the confines of home.
I was seated at my desk, likely thinking about how excited I was to watch WWE Monday Night Raw that night (it was at the apex of at Attitude Era after all), when a man of with the stature of such as a snowman that got lost in an LL Bean department store came impishly waddling into the classroom.
I am sure that Mrs. Matsumoto gave a brief preamble about the lesson plan for the day. Really, who would just spring this on a group of eleven-year-old’s outside of necessity? Why would anyone just surprise a class room with an educational jack in the box that shot out the corpse of a chicken instead of a jangling clown?
Sadly, none of us were listening. Mrs. Matsumoto’s ability to lose her audience was unrivaled. As repellent to an easily distracted 6th graders mind as Jeff Foxworthy’s ability to connect to his audience at the Apollo. Mr. Matsumoto reached into one of his two bags and placed a large cutting board on the front countertop at the head of the classroom. He then removed a series of what I can only assume were sanitary wipes from his bag, and then several large, intimidating blades.
Now our focus was piqued.
That had done it, I thought.
We’d obviously fucked up so badly that our teacher’s husband was coming in to class to kill us to defend his oft ignored wife. Our insolence would be paid for in the coin of our young, stupid blood.
But hark! A chicken.
Mr. Matsumoto, instead of being the harbinger of our early demise removed from his second bag the lifeless body of a large hen and placed it on the cutting board. While describing what he was doing to the class, he began to remove the remaining feathers from this deceased distant cousin of the tyrannosaurus rex.
In a rather Herculean task, Mr. Matsumoto managed to do in thirty seconds using only several 9-inch carbon steel knives and some dead livestock what his better half had failed to do day after day for months now: have us sit still and be unable to look away.
First, he beheaded the chicken.
Next, he disemboweled the bird and removed several of her unlaid eggs and placed them on the side for cooking later that evening at home. The sight of this caused several of my classmates to scream, and one to leave the room altogether.
However, if you think that stopped Mr. Matsumoto from teaching us one of the more useful if not terrifying skills I’ve ever learned, you’d be as mistaken as that chicken in question’s belief that it would see the first frosts of winter.
Then he shattered both legs and laid the corpse out flat after removing its spine; spatchcocking they call this on the Food Network. You know, where Alton Brown shares this knowledge with adults instead of horrified children.
Finally, he cut the bird into the familiar chunks that we are so familiar with at grocery stories. He then proceeded towards the range at the front of the class that was predominantly used for science classes and instead, after breading the chicken, fried up a few scattered pieces of it and offered to feed it to us.
I was one of the only children to take him up on his offer. He did offer me the much prized “finger” portion of the chicken breast that so many youngsters are drawn to like a recent divorcee to a white wine tasting.
I genuinely don’t know what I was supposed to get out of this lesson. An understanding of where food comes from? An appreciation of the sacrifices these generous creatures make for the sake of our diet that numbers into the millions by the day? Maybe even the opposite; perhaps attempting to instill in me a sense of moral propriety against taking a life so that I myself may have a snack?
I don’t know
What I am sure of is this: damn fine lesson, Mr. Matsumoto. May your blades remain as sharp as your keen eye for engaging young minds. I sincerely can’t think of any lesson that taught me earlier in life that we’re all going to die and that any day I could be next. Sheila and I are in your debt.