"I love the Colonel," Monika said, gazing out the window of my car. It was just after one o'clock; the bars were still open, our friends were still drinking in them, but we wanted to go to her house to have sex. We were enveloped in a carressing daze: with the abundant alcohol in our blood, the warmth of our unconcealed affection for each other, the ubiquitous flash and glow of Hollywood neon -- I felt like my mind was descending into a sort of therapeutic quicksand.
"You like...you really like fried chicken, huh?"
"Oh, no, I'm vegetarian." She gave me a playful glare. "You knew that! I told you that when we first met."
I noticed my fingers gripping the wheel more tightly. "Well, I don't understand: if you're vegetarian, then--"
"Didn't I tell you that already? I must have. I always try to tell people that when I first meet them so I don't get dragged to steakhouses and all that bullshit."
"No, no, you did; I mean, I took you to Healthy Choice, right?" She laughed.
"So what I mean is, does K.F.C. serve anything other than fried chicken?"
"Oh, no, I mean: I love him for his philosophy, not for his food."
I changed the subject. I asked her about school. She was a med student: I asked her to explain ulcers to me. She began speaking in a steady, melodic flow.
About five minutes later a bubble of anxiety popped inside my head. I had never been to her apartment before, and I was worried. What if she had images of the Colonel plastered all over her apartment? A life-sized dummy standing guard beside her bed? I once knew a woman who had a print of Alan Alda from M*A*S*H in every room of her home; I knew a guy who accumulated Star Trek souvenirs like gerbils breeding out of control; I've known women who carried around pictures of an Anglo Jesus looking tortured by loneliness or orgasmic with the Love of God; I've known at least a half-dozen Elvis freaks (with Elvis posters, pillows, bedsheets, shower curtains, T-shirts, cups, mugs, tattooes -- fingernail stencils of the king, their hair greased with luminescent ooze in his honor, his records spinning constantly, sounding like supermarket muzak with amateur vocal overdubs -- or not spinning at all, as if to suggest that Elvis-as-musician misses the point). By now, I'd learned to totally overlook people's pop culture obsessions: I simply didn't want to know anymore. I didn't want to ask why.
And what if Monika said to me at some inopportune moment, "You remind me of the Colonel." What then? How could I possibly keep an erection?
I understood why people worshipped some stars: some have dazzling wit, which makes them beguiling; some -- but not many -- have compassion, which makes them seem like figures of enduring purity in a sickly corrupt world; some are insightful critics of our society, and speak as if from a semi-divine point of critical distance (which is probably a lot easier to do if you're wealthy like most stars -- or at least, a lot easier to do speciously). Sometimes people worship celebrities just because lots of other people seem to be worshipping them.
I admit, I didn't want to know what it was about the Colonel. But Monika's capacity for worshipping a cultural icon may have been inviting to me: if a woman can worship a star (of sorts) surely she could also learn to worship a man in real life (for example, me): the Colonel may be a charismatic figure, but can he bring her to orgasm? I hoped not. And if I could get her to see the dark side of the Colonel, it would be a benchmark: something by which I could gauge the level of her affection for me. Monika's heart was a battleground: It was me versus the Colonel.
It would be a strenuous battle. Her opinion of the Colonel was based only on the idealized figure of the Him portrayed in K.F.C. advertisements: the grandfatherly figure with the string-tie, the soft, wispy facial hair, the loving eyes offering nourishment at a competitive price. How could I, a real-life man with real-life problems, compete with brilliant suggestive advertising?
I developed a strategy. If I found myself losing ground to the Colonel, I could twist this grandfatherly image to my own advantage: I could tell her, making up some bogus historical data, that the Colonel was, in fact, a Colonel in the Confederate army: that he had fought to preserve the institution of slavery -- that he had opposed the Union we now adore. I could say that he had beta-tested his chicken recipe on the corpses of Union soldiers, serving deep-fried human flesh to the loyal minions of Robert E. Lee before they rushed onto the battlefield to slaughter Lincoln's brave young troops. Why is it, I could ask, that the images of the Colonel always stop at the chin? So as to not show the tail, the pitchfork, the demons grovelling at his feet?
My worries about her love of the Colonel were misplaced.. Her apartment betrayed no signs of her secret devotion. No busts of the Colonel loomed over her desk; no Warholish paintings of the red-and-white K.F.C. wrappings adorned her walls. She gave me a marguerita (minus the lime juice, triple-sec, ice and salt), then another; I was seeing double when we made love.
Indeed, the only indication of her professed "love" of the Colonel was a T-shirt she was wearing when I woke up the next morning. In streaky red letters, it announced: Eleven herbs and spices. I asked her to explain.
"I hate monotony," she said.
"People are boring. They're goddam boring."
"You mean...I'm not sure what you mean."
"There are so many ways people can be. Most people are into something, or something else. But something. You know what I mean? I'm into everything."
"How is...how is the Colonel 'everything'?"
Monika told me about Ram Nam. It's the name of a religious feast, she said. She went to a Vedanta temple in Hollywood -- a sort of religious group that tried to unify the central themes of all of the world's religions in a positive message about the value of human life.
"Every month, they serve food to anyone who comes into the church. The feast is called Ram Nam. If you show up, they feed you."
"Lots of religious groups do things like that. It's a cult-induction technique; it's called love-bombing. Give non-believers food, shower them with affection, they start to feel that they're valued. What does that have to do with Kentucky Fried Chicken?"
"That's what the Colonel does. Serves food with eleven herbs and spices for everyone who cares to show up."
"But you pay for it."
"It's still love."
"Not if you have to pay for it. It's how the Colonel makes money."
"It's still love. We can't all be religious."
And like that, I lost the battle.
What's so fucked up about those elusive wonderful moments when all the senses seem to gel around your affection for someone is this: they don't recur. The blend is only right once.
I celebrated Ram Nam like a funeral. I went to K.F.C. and ordered the remains of a chicken sparking with the aromatic crisp of a mysterious batter, a dollop of translucent mashed potatoes, a gooey nest of cole slaw, and chewed without tasting.
I imagined throwing the tray across the room, shouting curses at the false religion of commercial culture.
The Colonel looked down at me from every corner, his complacent smile mocking me. I imagined a voice, a voice like Elvis's, muffled slightly by the whisps of a grotesque goatee.
"You don't please them, boy. You're not high-minded enough. Where you see brain-death, a fixation on vacuous advertising ploys, they see eleven herbs and spices: they experience tastes that reverberate right to their souls. You? You are their starvation."
Smooth as a shadow|
Nothing to be|
White Walled Cell
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